A sign outside the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall on June 12 in Arcadia, California.
A sign outside the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall on June 12 in Arcadia, California.
Photo: Frederic J. Brown (AFP via Getty Images)

In light of rising covid-19 cases, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Governor Gavin Newsom of California on Thursday announced that the state would require all residents to wear face masks or coverings in public and in situations deemed high-risk. The reasoning was simple. Apparently, too many people are gambling with their own health and that of others by not putting on face masks.

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According to the state’s updated health guidance, people in California must wear face masks when they are inside a public space, obtaining health services, riding public transit, carrying out work that involves interacting with the public, or are outdoors in public spaces where it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of six feet from other people, among others.

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“Simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered — putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease,” Newsom told the Los Angeles Times in a statement. “California’s strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if people act safely and follow health recommendations. That means wearing a face covering, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.”

Newsom’s office told the Times that under state law, residents who violate the new requirement could be charged with a misdemeanor and face a financial penalty. However, as noted by the Times, it’s uncertain whether authorities will take these actions to enforce the order. State officials have preferred to encourage compliance and educate residents about the benefits of safeguards against the virus.

There are some exceptions to the new guidance. Children who are 2 years old and younger are not required to wear a face mask because of the risk of suffocation. People with a medical condition, people who are hearing impaired, people who are sitting and eating at a restaurant, and people who are engaged in outdoor activities, among others, do not have to wear a face mask.

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About a dozen other states, including New York and Michigan, and some major cities have rules requiring their residents to wear face masks, Reuters reported. Most of these rules apply where social distancing isn’t possible or in shared indoor spaces, such as stores or public transport.

Newsom’s order comes amid rising cases in California. Officials reported more than 4,000 new cases of the disease in a single day for the first time on Wednesday. The state, which is easing social distancing measures and reactivating its economy, has reported more than 3,000 new cases in a day at eight times in June, per the San Francisco Chronicle.

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As of Friday, California reported 165,416 cases of covid-19 and 5,360 deaths, according to the state’s coronavirus tracking website.

California was one of the first states in the U.S. to issue a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus crisis. Nonetheless, keeping the virus at bay with everyone locked down is one thing. Now, California and others face the challenge of keeping the virus controlled while loosening restrictions and reactivating the economy.

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Face masks have unfortunately become a point of contention in the U.S., with some people believing that the recommendation to wear one is an attack on their individual liberty. The fact that President Donald Trump refuses to wear one and that health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have issued downright confusing and contradictory advice on wearing face masks hasn’t helped.

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Despite what the president and others say, there is a growing amount of research that indicates that wearing face masks reduces the spread of the virus. The CDC now recommends wearing cloth face masks in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain and provides a tutorial on its website for people interested in making their own.

Bottom line: Everyone should be wearing a face mask when they come into contact with others or cannot follow safety guidelines. Choosing not to wear one is plain selfish and puts others at risk.

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