Riverside County orders all residents to cover their faces in public

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Riverside County’s public health officer on Saturday ordered all residents to cover their faces when leaving home, marking a dramatic escalation by county officials in their attempts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser said despite previous pleas from county officials for residents to socially distance, cover their faces and stay home, “more and more” residents were getting infected with the virus, and “not everyone’s getting the message.”

“We change from saying that you should to saying that you must,” Kaiser said in a prepared statement published by the county.

As of Saturday, Riverside County has reported 665 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while 18 people have died from the disease, officials said.

Face coverings can include bandannas, scarves, “or other clothing that does not have visible holes,” according to a prepared statement from the county. Medical grade masks, like the N95, should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders, the statement said.

Los Angeles and the Bay Area had previously urged residents to cover their mouths and noses, and San Diego County yesterday ordered all essential workers to do the same, part of a broader effort among local governments and the state to flatten the curve of the pandemic before hospitals become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

But Riverside County’s new mandate is far more strict, requiring anyone who leaves the house to cover up.

The order also bans all gatherings of people except for family members residing in the same home, according to the news release.

The sharply worded news release said that police officers have the power to enforce the orders “as they deem necessary.”

“We have already lost two of our deputies to this virus. I am asking all of you to honor them by staying at home,” said Sheriff Chad Bianco.

The gatherings ban also applies to places of worship, according to the county. Essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations are not affected.

One official noted that for Christians, Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week preceding Easter, and that this was a good time to show their love for their neighbors.

“Palm Sunday, Passover and Easter are sacred days. The best way to practice our love for God is loving our fellow neighbor. That means staying home and observing the holidays at home,” said county Board of Supervisors Chairman V. Manuel Perez.