Editorial: Gov. Newsom makes face masks mandatory in California to save lives from COVID-19

Tribune Content Agency

The evidence is clear: Cloth masks can help significantly reduce the spread of the coronavirus. That’s why California needed to make masks mandatory in all public places, and on Thursday Gov. Gavin Newsom finally issued a public health order requiring all Californians to wear masks in most public places.

“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,” Newsom said in a statement. “That means wearing a face covering, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.”

Multiple scientific studies show that, until there’s a vaccine, cloth masks will provide our best defense against the unchecked spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. That’s why all Californians should gladly do their part and wear masks in public places.

“This protective measure alone significantly reduced the number of infections, that is, by over 78,000 in Italy from April 6 to May 9 and over 66,000 in New York City from April 17 to May 9,” according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “Other mitigation measures, such as social distancing implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public. We conclude that wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with simultaneous social distancing, quarantine, and contact tracing, represents the most likely fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As the state progresses through the phases of reopening, and as more people start coming into contact with one another, mandatory masks will play a key role. Dr. Lisa Barcellos, a UC Berkeley epidemiologist, called mandatory masks a “no brainer.”

“Wearing a mask should absolutely be mandatory in any public place. Period. No mask, no entry,” Barcellos said. “If outdoors, each individual needs to wear a mask if they are in close proximity to others and physical distancing is still critical. Each person should have a mask with them at all times when exercising or outdoors for other reasons.”

On June 17, Dr. Lee Snook — incoming president of the California Medical Association — called on the state to issue a statewide mask order.

“California would benefit from an order from our state health officer that reflects CDC guidelines: Face coverings should be worn when people are out in public and around other people,” Snook said in a statement provided to The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board.

The science is clear but, unfortunately, opposition to masks has become a political flash point for a small number of people who view them as an infringement of their right to spread a deadly virus. Some county health officials have faced personal attacks and bullying from anti-mask activists who seem to oppose any government action designed to protect public health.

Dr. Nichole Quick, the chief health officer of Orange County, resigned on June 8 after her order for county residents to wear masks resulted in threats and personal attacks. After she resigned, the Orange County board of supervisors bowed to public pressure and rescinded the mask rule, according to a story by CalMatters, which said Quick was “the third high-level Orange County health official to do so during the pandemic.”

“If their public health officer basically is forced out and their policies are changed because of politics and harassment and bullying, and now you have … . growing cases, which I think there are in Orange County, that doesn’t just stop at the county border, because it bleeds over to all the bordering counties,” said Dr. Richard Pan, who represents Sacramento in the California State Senate and supports a mandatory mask rule.

Orange County’s decision to cave to political concerns instead of following science shows why Newsom can no longer leave such critical life-or-death decisions up to local officials. There’s no point in having a governor if every county gets to decide for itself whether to follow truth and science on matters of grave concern.

We are in the middle of a deadly pandemic that has killed over 5,200 Californians and nearly 120,000 Americans. Newsom should spare us the amateur political philosophy and lead the state through the crisis — as the people of California elected him to do.

Masks won’t completely halt the spread of the virus, but they could potentially save your life or the life of someone you love. A mask doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated to be effective. Even a mask fashioned out of a T-shirt, a bandana or a sock can make a big difference (and there are plenty of online tutorials for how to make them). The basic point is to cover your nose and mouth, and to maintain a 6-foot distance from others when interacting with people outside of your household.

Covering your face may seem uncomfortable or inconvenient, but remember this: Scientists say the hardest days of the COVID-19 pandemic lie ahead of us. History has often asked Americans to make great sacrifices, and some have even given their lives in defense of the common good.

Wearing a simple cloth mask to save lives seems pretty easy in comparison.


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