Coronavirus pandemic: Face coverings required in San Francisco starting at midnight

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced the city will require people to wear face coverings or masks starting midnight Friday night to help contain the spread of novel coronavirus.

San Franciscans will be required to wear face coverings while running essential errands, seeking health care, waiting for transit, or taking transit. All workers at essential businesses will also be required to wear such coverings or masks, as will public transit, taxi and ride-share drivers.

The city won't start enforcing the new rule until April 22, Breed said, to allow people time to get access to face coverings. The city will also distribute masks to vulnerable populations, she said.

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"This will be a requirement for people who are standing in line for grocery stores ... when you're inside those locations ... anytime you're in close proximity with others," explained Breed.

She added there is no need for citizens to obtain or wear N-95 masks, which should be reserved for healthcare and front line workers.

Face coverings don't even have to be store-bought; scarves, bandanas and homemade coverings made from t-shirts are all allowed according to the public health emergency order.

Face coverings do not take the place of social distancing, either. People should continue to stay at least six feet away from those who are not members of their household and avoid leaving the house except for essential errands.

The public health emergency order makes an exception for children 12 years and younger. Children under two shouldn't wear face coverings to avoid risk of suffocation.

The order also doesn't strictly apply when you're exercising outdoors, whether it be walking, jogging, hiking or biking. However, people should still carry a face covering with them in case they need it and should still practice other social distancing measures.

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Even when it's not strictly required, the order recommends people wear face coverings whenever in public, if possible.

As for enforcement, Mayor Breed asked San Franciscans to leave that to the professionals.

"If you're not a police officer, don't act like one," she said.

Similar orders requiring face coverings are in effect in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma counties. Read more on the face covering requirements around the Bay Area here.

San Francisco health officials hope the ordinance will get people used to wearing face coverings, a practice that may last beyond the worst of the coronavirus crisis.

"This will help us now and it will help us in the future as we hope to be able to relax the stay-at-home order," said Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax. "By then, people will already be in the habit of wearing face coverings at the grocery store, in lines, while riding the bus, in a taxi or Uber. It is likely that we will need to do this for some time, even as we begin to emerge from our homes."

"This is a pandemic like no other and this is a challenge we will get through," said Mayor Breed. "Just like in the 1906 earthquake, we will rebuild and we will thrive."

The city has 1,058 known COVID-19 cases and 20 related deaths, as of Friday.

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