San Francisco residents will now be required to wear face masks when out in public and violators could face fines or even jail time, according to a local health order issued Friday.
Based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this new order mandates that masks be worn at grocery stores, pharmacies, healthcare facilities, and other essential businesses, as well as while waiting for or riding public transit. These masks don’t need to be medical grade equipment—things like DIY masks, bandannas, and scarfs all satisfy the requirement—but at a minimum they “should cover the nose and mouth and fit securely,” according to a press release from the office of San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
These new rules apply both to the general public and any employees or volunteers working at facilities that are allowed to remain open under the state’s stay-at-home order. One exception is for people exercising outdoors, who aren’t required to wear a mask though they are recommended to keep one on hand. Children 12 years old or younger are also exempt.
The order, issued by County Health Officer Tomás Aragón, goes into effect Saturday, though officials won’t begin enforcing these new rules until Wednesday, April 22. Residents who fail to follow these guidelines could face misdemeanor charges punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both, the statement warned.
“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,” said Breed per the release. “We know it will take some time to get used to, but it will help save lives.”
Other CDC guidelines such as frequent handwashing and staying at least six feet apart in public should still be maintained even while wearing these masks, the office added.
Wearing face coverings can help prevent those infected with the novel coronavirus or the disease caused by it, covid-19, from spreading the virus, as it’s primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets that infect nearby surfaces or other people directly through the air. Early research has shown that even people who aren’t exhibiting coronavirus symptoms pose a significant threat as unknowing carriers.
It’s why some local governments have found voluntary calls for residents to wear masks ineffective at curbing the virus’s spread. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also issued a mandate requiring masks via an executive order Wednesday, though currently the state isn’t enforcing any legal penalties for failing to wear a mask while in public. While the majority of states across the country have adopted stay-at-home mandates, San Francisco’s orders, along with similar ones adopted in several other Bay Area counties, mark some of the staunchest preventive coronavirus measures adopted in the U.S. to date.