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Everything you need to know about the county’s new face covering rule

Assignment Number_Section: ME, NA, FG, SP, CA etc._Story Slug_NC_
Dr. Nick Yphantides, San Diego County’s chief medical officer, stands among other public officials at a press conference in April announcing the opening of the newly created federal medical station at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Here’s what it says, how to comply, where to buy masks and how to clean them

Beginning today, face coverings are now required attire in San Diego County.

A new COVID-19 public health order that went into effect this morning requires the use of a cloth face covering or mask in all public and business spaces whenever you’re within 6 feet of another person who is not from your household. As encountering a stranger is unpredictable, county supervisors have adopted a new adage: “When you leave your place, cover your face.”

Perhaps no county official has been a bigger proponent of the face mask protocol than its chief medical offficer, Dr. Nick Yphantides. He’s known for wearing brightly colored masks, including a recent one with an American flag design. Yphantides, 54, has seen first-hand the damage a pandemic can do to a family.

George Yphantides
George Yphantides of Escondido, 70, passed away in 2009 from the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
(Courtesy photo)

In 2009, he lost his 70-year-old father, George Yphantides of Escondido, to the H1N1 swine flu. George was the third person in the country to die of this infectious disease, which emerged in San Diego County. He passed away before a vaccine was developed.

Dr. Yphantides has said he feels it’s his mission to guide San Diego County through the troubled waters of the current pandemic. He believes wearing a mask is a small price to pay for a healthy community.

“I truly consider my wearing the various colorful face masks I have received as gifts as a way of showing my love, concern and consideration for those around me,” Yphantides said on Thursday. “Why not do something that could be a benefit in cutting down the risk of transmission of this virus, especially now that we are so vulnerable and have such few other options.”

To help explain the county’s new face covering order, we’ve gathered some answers from county officials as well as state and national resources.

What exactly is the county’s new rule on face coverings?

The law requires that all San Diego County residents wear a face covering whenever they are outside and within 6 feet of someone who is not from their household. In order to comply safely with this rule, residents should always have their face covering either around their neck or easily at hand so they can place it quickly over their face when they encounter someone. Children under the age of 2 are not required to wear a mask, and people with developmental disabilities as well as medical or mental health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask are also exempt.

What about when I’m inside a store or at work?

The new order requires the use of a face covering in all places of business, whether it is a commercial operation or an office.

What about when I’m driving, exercising or at the beach?

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said on Thursday that the face-covering, 6-foot rule must be practiced at newly reopened golf courses, parks and at the beach. Masks are not required in the ocean water or for joggers on a trail. Masks are not required while driving, unless there is someone in the vehicle who is not from the same household.

How long will this new face covering order last?

The order will continue indefinitely.

Why are they only enforcing the public face covering rule now?

As part of the county’s long-term four-step plan to reopen the city’s businesses, government offices, schools, parks, beaches and cultural institutions, safety precautions are needed as members of the public leave their homes and begin to congregate in small numbers. The masks provide an additional layer of protection against infection, when combined with frequent hand-washing and staying home whenever possible.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Thursday that the face covering and other new health orders are designed to help maintain the county’s progress toward flattening the curve of new infections. It can also help reduce the severity of infection if a second wave of the virus strikes.

“It’s critically important to not lose our focus or commitment,” Fletcher said. “We do not want to throw away all that progress as we continue to move forward.”

What is the purpose of wearing a face covering?

Face coverings are meant to reduce the transmission of virus-laden droplets from an asymptomatic carrier of the disease when they sneeze or cough around other people who are virus-free.

Yphantides has said that COVID-19 is transmitted by larger particles that come from our lungs and respiratory system. But there are smaller, even more microscopic particles that can be aerosolized. There is emerging evidence that while homemade cloth masks may not capture the tiny aerosolized particles, they are effective in potentially decreasing the transmission of the larger droplets.

“As immunity is not yet widely present, we have no vaccines and no readily available proven therapies. Really the social distancing and other nonpharmaceutical interventions are still our best bet,” he said. “While the evidence of benefit for the use of various cloth face masks is still emerging, I truly feel that something is better than nothing.”

What happens if I get caught by authorities without a required face covering?

San Diego Police and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department officials said Thursday they will first try to educate citizens about the new law before taking action for violations.

“The direction the staff has from the San Diego Police Department is one of education and asking for compliance,” said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit. “Really what we are asking for — just like we’ve always been asking for — is if you go in public, we want you to wear a face covering. It’s not only to protect yourself, but it’s also to stop the spread of this virus.”

“If an officer sees you and you are in public without a facial covering, an officer will contact you, ask you to put it on, and give the education of why it’s required, based on the public health order and ask you to do that. Again ,it’s all about cooperation, so that’s what we want,” Nisleit said.

The Sheriff’s Department issued a statement expressing hope that county resident will cooperate with the order and it advised against phoning in complaints of mask violation sightings.

“Law enforcement does not have the resources or ability to respond to calls for service solely related to mask-wearing,” the Sheriff’s statement read. “Please refrain from utilizing emergency services to report those violations. If deputies observe violations of the mask or other orders they will generally attempt to gain compliance first, but always have the discretion to enforce the orders if they deem it is appropriate. All public health order violations that deputies write citations for are submitted to the District Attorney’s office for review and issuance.”

What can I wear as an approved face covering?

There is no need to purchase a medical-grade N95 mask. A bandanna, scarf, neck gaiter or even a towel will do. The goal is that it cover the lower half of the face from the bridge of the nose down to beneath the chin. If you are making or buying a disposable paper surgeon’s mask or cloth face mask with straps, be sure it is not too loose and does not have tears or holes in it. Thicker coverings are better than thin. Masks with cloth straps that tie behind the head are more comfortable for long-term wear than masks with elastic bands that hook behind the ears. To reduce moisture buildup inside a cloth mask, consider using a paper tissue, disposable coffee filter or extra layers of fabric.

What is the best way to clean my cloth mask and how often?

Washing your cloth mask daily with hot, soapy water will kill the virus. Take particular care when removing the mask so that the exterior does not come in contact with your eyes, mouth or other parts of the body to avoid possible exposure. Then wash your hands afterward. Be sure to place the mask in a separate dirty laundry pile until washing to avoid contaminating other clothing.

Where can I go to buy a cloth or disposable mask?

Thousands of seamstresses around San Diego have been sewing masks for weeks and donating them to essential workers. Some are also selling them online. Check the Nextdoor App for sellers in your neighborhood. Some are also selling masks on Facebook Marketplace. Here are retailers where local residents say they have purchased cloth and disposable masks within the past week: Target stores; Staples stores; 7-Eleven markets; Walgreens; CVS; Home Depot; Lowe’s; medical and uniform supply stores; gardening, paint and patio supply stores; Gelson’s markets; Remedy Beauty Lounge in Encinitas; Style Cleaners & Alterations in Santee; and locally based online clothing makers Sonsha.com and sophiaandsam.com. Supplies vary by location. Call first to check on availability.

Where can I find instructions to sew my own mask?

Kaiser Permanente offers a free pattern, written instructions in English, Spanish and Chinese and a video tutorial for sewing a cloth mask. Visit about.kaiserpermanente.org/our-story/news# and scroll down to the April 15 article “Making Masks for Personal Use.”

The Facebook page Make-a-Mask San Diego (facebook.com/groups/MakeaMaskSD) offers downloadable patterns for five different mask styles as well as video tutorials for making masks with any skill level. The simplest and quickest mask tutorial uses just a folded cotton bandanna and two elastic hair ties with no sewing required. It can be assembled in 45 seconds.

People have been protesting over being required to wear a face mask. Does the health order violate people’s Constitutional rights?

The government has broad powers to protect the public health. Yphantides said local residents should consider wearing a face covering not only their civic duty but also an act of love.

“I fully appreciate individual liberty and the sense of being imposed upon that so many may be feeling, but I look at it as a temporary opportunity of loving my neighbor and doing what I can do get back to a place we all long for and cherish,” Yphantides said.

For more, details on COVID-19 prevention, symptoms and treatment, visit these web pages for the county (sandiegocounty.gov), the California Department of Public Health (cdph.ca.gov) and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov).

Staff writer Teri Figueroa contributed to this report (teri.figueroa@sduniontribune.com).


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