OC Health Officials Strongly Encourage Face Coverings for Workers at Essential Businesses

CNS News
April 09, 2020 - 2:41 pm

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's chief health officer today issued a recommendation "strongly encouraging" face coverings for workers at essential businesses which remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

   Dr. Nichole Quick, who has the authority to mandate the action, stopped short of doing so. Her order was issued two days after the Orange County Board of Supervisors rejected Supervisor Andrew Do's motion to make face coverings mandatory for at least food industry workers. Do declined to comment on Dr. Quick's recommendation on Thursday.

   Quick said the recommendation follows guidance from the California Department of Public Health issued April 1.

   "Residents can make their own face coverings at home from a variety of materials and should refrain from purchasing personal protective equipment that is critical and in short supply for our healthcare workers, such as N95 and surgical masks," Quick said.

   A face covering should be worn over the nose and mouth, she said. Any sort of ties or straps should be used to secure it to the head. They can be factory-made, folded, sewn or improvised from common household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts or towels, she said.

   "Face coverings are an additional tool that may help protect staff and patrons from COVID-19, but they are not a substitute for proven protective measures like frequent hand washing, keeping your hands away from your face, practicing social distancing and staying home," she said.

   Beginning Friday, Los Angeles will make face coverings for workers mandatory. The city of Irvine issued an order Wednesday, making them mandatory, with the City Council expected to ratify it Friday. San Diego County adopted a similar policy last week.

   Orange County now has 1,079 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 17 deaths.

   Officials, meanwhile, are awaiting guidance from the county's chief health officer about requiring face coverings for food industry workers amid the pandemic.

   The number of hospitalized patients increased from 99 on Wednesday to 127 on Thursday, with the number of patients in intensive care increasing from 59 to 63,according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

   Of the county's 1,079 cases, 15 -- about 1% -- involve people under 18 years old; 9%, 93, are between 18-24; 16%, 174, are between 25-34; 15%, 159, are between 35-44; 40%, 433, are between 45-64, and 19%, 205, are 65 or older. Men make up 52% of the county's cases.

   Officials say 12,239 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the county, with 1,578 more tests available. Since Wednesday, 448 people were tested.

   Anaheim has the most cases with 114, followed by Irvine with 90 and Newport Beach with 81. Huntington Beach has seen a sharp rise to 76 cases, just two behind Santa Ana. Laguna Woods now has seven cases of coronavirus. On Wednesday, it was the first time the Health Care Agency had reported statistics from Laguna Woods, which has a population under 25,000. Cases from such cities are not reported until they exceed five. Villa Park, which has a population of 5,933, on Thursday entered the list since it reached 5 cases.

   Jerika Lam, a Chapman University associate professor of pharmacy and expert on viral infections, said face coverings ought to be mandatory. Lam said that with state officials now able to acquire masks for healthcare workers on a mass scale, the fear of residents gobbling up a scarce supply has waned.

   Lam said a study published Thursday showed how the virus can be spread in the air by talking.

   "When we are talking, we can spew saliva, some of it can be in a fine mist, depending on the temperature," Lam said. "When we're in dry places like the desert, our saliva -- the spit that comes out -- may be in the form of aerosol, because there's not much humidity to press it down."

   Lam added, "We will all get more used to wearing masks... Making this mandatory would not be unreasonable, especially when we're trying to blunt or flatten the curve."

   The incubation time for the infection is 4 to 5 days, the average time to develop symptoms is 11 to 12, he said.

   "I may be infected and not know I have it, walking around, and if I don't use a mask to protect someone from getting it from me, I am putting that other persona at risk from getting infected, too," Lam said.

   Suellen Hopfer, a professor of disease prevention at UC Irvine, told City News Service on Tuesday that restaurant workers should wear some sort of face covering. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending the practice for food workers.

   Irvine Mayor Christina Shea said Wednesday that a city order has taken effect requiring retail workers to wear face coverings in that city. The requirement applies to grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail stores where clerks interact with customers, the mayor said.

   City officials attempted to cajole city businesses to go along with a resolution on face coverings last month, but the majority of retail workers have not complied, Shea said. Some store managers have said corporate executives have said it should be voluntary, the mayor said.

   "That's just not OK," Shea said. "We didn't want to go to this step."

   Shea said she and other council members and other volunteers handed out masks to various stores in the city to use.

   "It was a huge hole in the social distancing," Shea said of the lack of masks or scarves used to cover the face. "And we need to tighten up that hole and fix it."

   She said workers could use any sort of facial covering, including scarves or bandanas. She said the hospital-grade masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.

   "We don't want to take surgical  masks away from medical professionals," Shea said.

   The city's major developer, FivePoint, has pledged to acquire 100,000 masks for the city, Shea said.

   Students and faculty at UC Irvine recently teamed up to design and construct thousands of face shields for healthcare workers with 3D printers. Chapman University students have done the same.

   Sheriff Don Barnes told the Board of Supervisors he received test results Monday night showing four more inmates in Orange County's jails have COVID-19, increasing the total to 10, nine men and one woman.

   Nineteen inmates are in "medical isolation," meaning they are showing symptoms of coronavirus, Barnes said. Another 159 inmates are in quarantine, meaning they have had contact with someone with the virus.

   Sheriff's officials have implemented a full quarantine in the men's and women's jails.