Face Mask Requirements Announced in Most Bay Area Counties

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While some areas might be loosening restrictions when it comes to COVID-19, most Bay Area counties are making rules even tighter with masks now becoming a requirement in certain places.

San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo and Marin counties on Friday announced that everyone in those areas will be required to wear face coverings when they are out in public for essential needs, such as going to the grocery store or riding on public transportation.

When you are out and about getting your essentials this weekend, face coverings will be mandatory for a lot of people. If you don’t already have one, finding one will be difficult. Cheryl Hurd reports.

“Today’s Order is part of our broader strategy to protect public health and slow the spread of the coronavirus in our community,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “By covering your face when you go pick up food or ride Muni, you are helping reduce the risk of infecting those around you. As we look to a time where we can begin to ease the Stay Home Order, we know that face coverings will be part of that future – and we want San Franciscans to become more comfortable with this new normal. We know it will take some time to get used to, but it will help save lives.”

So is it law or just a good idea? There’s growing confusion over which parts of the Bay Area have now ordered people to wear masks in public, and which are just suggesting it. Scott Budman reports.

In San Francisco, Alameda County and San Mateo County, the order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday, but it won't be enforced until 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Contra Costa County's order will take effect starting Wednesday, but no specific time was given. Marin County's order kicks in at 12 p.m. Wednesday.

A similar mask order in Sonoma County went into effect Friday morning.

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department said Friday it is "strongly urging" everyone in the county to wear face coverings when they're out in public performing essential activities.

Federal guidance asks everyone to wear a face covering when leaving home. NBC Bay Area Consumer Investigator Chris Chmura shows us how to make a simple mask in just minutes, with everyday items at home.

The order applies to all workers and visitors at essential businesses, like grocery stores and medical facilities, and public transit and government workers who interact with the public. People will be required to wear a mask when waiting in line or riding public transportation.

The masks can be made of cloth, fabric, or other materials that allow breathing while covering the nose, mouth, and lower part of the face. Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said medical-grade masks are not required, and a T-shirt or bandana is an acceptable substitute. Masks with a one-way valve for easy breathing do not meet the requirements because they can release respiratory droplets into the air.

"We now know that a significant number of people with COVID-19 lack symptoms, or become infectious before they start showing symptoms," Farnitano said in a news release. "That is why we all need to start wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where it's sometimes hard to maintain physical distancing, such as standing in line at the store."

Businesses will be required to notify their customers about the new rule. Workers don't have to wear masks in their personal office, but have to put one on around other people.

The order doesn't apply to people driving cars alone or with members of their household, but people should always carry face coverings in case they encounter others in public. Anyone doing strenuous exercise should stay as far as they can from other people, especially while breathing heavily, and wear a mask or cross the street if possible. 

In addition to the mask requirement, officials are still recommending regular hand washing and social distancing to further prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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