Message from Berkeley health officer: Face coverings are now required

The city of Berkeley has been sharing public health news and recommendations about COVID-19 on its website. Berkeleyside is reprinting some of these items with permission.

Berkeleyside is sharing this message from city of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez. It was published Friday evening and appears below in full.

Today, I issued an Order mandating the use of face coverings for everyone especially customers and workers in essential businesses so that infected people without symptoms don’t unintentionally spread COVID-19.

While we have seen many people cover their faces in public since the CDC and Bay Area Health Officers first recommended face coverings two weeks ago, it has not been enough.

While people should follow this mandate immediately, we are providing a grace period on enforcement until 8am on Wednesday, April 22.


Face coverings are not a substitute for staying home, staying 6 feet apart, and washing your hands regularly. A covering over mouth and nose is an additional tool in our arsenal of weapons to fight COVID-19. No end date has been set for when this requirement will end, so prepare accordingly.

This order applies to everyone in the City of Berkeley. Health Officers in Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties as well as the rest of Alameda County have also issued similar orders this week.

Why cover your face

Masks play an important role in combatting COVID-19, which spreads easily among people less than 6 feet from each other. This new coronavirus travels through the air by sneezing, coughing or just talking near another person. You can be infected even if you have no symptoms. Additionally, those who do become visibly ill can be contagious as early as 48 hours before they show symptoms.

When you’re required to wear a mask

Everyone must cover their face when out in public such as visiting an essential business, seeking healthcare, or while using shared transportation, including buses, BART, taxis, rideshare, or paratransit.

Workers at essential businesses must cover their face most of the time while at work, including:


  • when interacting with the public
  • in any space visited by the public
  • anywhere food is prepared
  • in common areas
  • in any room where other people are present

Drivers of public transit, ride share or taxis must wear a mask the entire time they are in the vehicle, regardless of whether or not passengers are present.

You don’t need to cover your face when home alone or when around people you live with.

Very few are exempt

There are some very specific people who do not have to wear a face covering:

  • Anyone who has trouble breathing, is incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.
  • Anyone who has been advised by a medical professional not to wear a face covering.
  • Any worker to the extent wearing a face covering creates a safety hazard at work under established health and safety guidelines.

Children

  • Face coverings are optional for children 3-12 years old.
  • Children 2 years or younger should not wear masks, as they may create a risk of suffocation.
  • Parents and caregivers must supervise use of face coverings by children to avoid misuse.

Outdoor exercise

You’re not required wear a mask while exercising outdoors, but you should carry one with you and put it on when it is not possible to stay 6 feet apart from others.

When exercising, take extra precautions to stay away from others around you, such as crossing the street to avoid sidewalks with pedestrians. Running and bicycling causes people to expel airborne particles more forcefully, which makes the usual minimum 6 feet distance less adequate.


Selecting and caring for your mask

Your mask should be made from cloth, fabric, or other soft material and cover the lower part of your face only, including your nose and mouth. Don’t use surgical masks or N-95s – medical grade masks are needed for health care workers and first responders.

Simple do-it-yourself face coverings are fine. You can improvise a face covering using a scarf, bandana, neck gaiter, t-shirt, or towel. The CDC has created tutorials on how to make a mask at home:

Your mask should be comfortable and allow you to breathe normally through your nose. Make sure it fits well – you should avoid touching your face or adjusting your mask once you’ve put it on.

Wash face coverings after each use.

Efforts to slow the spread are working

As of today, Berkeley residents have been under a stay home order for one month. I’m grateful to everyone making sacrifices to protect our community. I know how hard it is to see our daily lives disrupted, to not be able to enjoy favorite activities, and to be separated from friends and family.

Data shows that our collective action is working. We are slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the Bay Area. We need to take extra steps to protect ourselves and especially our essential workers who risk exposure day in and day out.

The formula for keeping our community safe is simple. Stay home. Cover your face. Wash your hands. Keep your distance.


Thank you to all who have been, and continue to practice these measures.

Lisa B. Hernandez, MD, MPH
City of Berkeley Health Officer