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Public workers scramble to comply with county order to wear face covers

REGION — All San Diego stores still open and serving the public will scramble today to comply with San Diego County’s amended public health orders — requiring all employees who work in essential business and interact with the public to wear facial covering — which goes into effect at midnight tonight.

These industries include pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations.

The California Grocers Associated sought guidance from County officials yesterday on how grocery stores are supposed to acquire face masks for their employees ”with such short notice,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Thursday.

“The safety of our employees and customers is always our first priority, and even more so during this health crisis,” Ron Fong, president and CEO of the California Grocers Association, said in a statement Thursday. “With such short notice given by San Diego County, grocery companies will be scrambling to be in compliance by Saturday’s deadline. We look forward to hearing from the County quickly on how it will support grocers securing appropriate face coverings for all its workers by April 4.”

San Diego County health officials revised the public health orders on Thursday, which also shut down park and beach parking lots throughout the region. Any park or beach still open in the county must close parking lots, making the space accessible only for local residents who can walk there. County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten also said that all group activities such as basketball and volleyball were prohibited. Activities such as walking, hiking and bike-riding will still be permitted.

Further orders include businesses remaining open that serve the public must now post social distancing and sanitization guidelines near the entrance of their business by the end of the day Tuesday, April 7 and a recommendation that anyone who leaves their home for any essential purpose should wear a facial covering — a bandana, scarf, homemade mask, etc. — while maintaining social distancing. These coverings should not be medical-grade masks, officials said.

The order for certain workers to wear face-covering, and the recommendation that all San Diego residents wear them when leaving their home, comes after health experts revised the value of face masks. Previously, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not recommend wearing a mask, unless a person was sick. But the CDC has reviewed this as new data showed that up to 25 percent of infected people may not have symptoms, but could be transmitting the virus.

The number of global COVID-19 cases crossed the million case milestone Thursday, and locally health officials confirmed 117 new cases and one death related to the illness in the county.

A Rancho Bernardo postal officer worker tested positive for COVID-19, the U.S. Postal Service said Thursday. The staffer work at the annex at 16960 Bernardo Center Drive. The agency said it has increased cleaning protocols in a statement released Thursday. No further information about the work was given.

The death of a 98-year-old woman raises the county’s mortality related to the illness to 16 people. There have now been 966 cases in the county, 181 of which have been hospitalized. Seventy have been sent to intensive care.

“We will clearly have over 1,000 cases tomorrow,” said Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s medical director of epidemiology. “If you do have to go out, treat others as if they have COVID and remain socially distant. They
should be treating you like you have it too.”

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore further added to the county’s public health orders, stating that he was informing law enforcement agencies across the county to step up enforcement of closed areas such as beaches and parks.

“The days of voluntary compliance are over,” he said. “These are not recommendations, these are orders.”

Violations are considered a misdemeanor and punishable by up to a $1,000 fine. Law enforcement agencies were largely educating violators before Thursday, Gore said.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher thanked the vast majority of San Diegans for taking the orders and closures seriously but said that a few people were necessitating the change in enforcement.

He said that 422 county residents were being sheltered in the county and Regional Task Force on the Homeless-managed hotel rooms, including 120 in isolation or awaiting test results and 302 previously unsheltered individuals now off the street.

Fletcher said the county had distributed more than 1.3 million pieces of personal protective equipment, including more than 581,000 N-95 respirators and more than 213,000 surgical masks.

On Thursday, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer encouraged businesses to produce critical items during the pandemic, as supplies run low.

“There are certain items across the world that are in low supply and high demand,” Faulconer said. “Nurses need face shields. Hospitals need ventilators. San Diegans need more hand sanitizer, and the list goes on. San Diego has a great reputation for innovation and ingenuity, and we are uniquely positioned to help meet these needs.”

McDonald said that the county had confirmed seven skilled nursing facilities reporting outbreaks, responsible for 41 cases and three deaths.

San Diego County temporarily suspended animal adoptions and fostering at county animal shelters, it announced Wednesday.

“The animals in our care are safe and well and will be ready to meet their potential new families again soon,” read a county statement on Twitter.