All Californians are now required to wear a face mask while in public, an order handed down by the governor Thursday amid concerns that lax social distancing practices by the public could be leading to an increase of COVID-19 infections.
"Simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered — putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
The new requirement, the first sign of stricter guidelines in recent weeks, comes as the state tries to restart the economy, open schools, and resume services paused by the pandemic.
"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. "That means wearing a face covering, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing."
Newsom's order also comes as California has seen an increase in the average number of confirmed coronavirus cases, raising concerns that an uptick in infections could halt efforts to restart the economy.
Some counties and cities across the state have already mandated masks or coverings, but state officials had, until Thursday, only recommended their use.
"As Californians venture into our communities more, wearing face coverings is another important way we can help protect one another," said Dr. Sonia Angell, state public health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health.
Newsom's statewide order is clashing with some county leaders who have moved toward relaxing local social distancing guidelines in their communities, often in response to public outcry and protests.
In Orange County, for example, officials rescinded a requirement to wear masks in public last week after protests.
The county's public health officer suddenly resigned earlier this month after receiving death threats over a previous order that made face masks mandatory in the county. Two days later, the new public health director rescinded the order, making them only a "strong" recommendation.
Fresno, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties have also pulled back their previous face mask rules over pushback from residents.
Under the new statewide order, residents will be required to wear a face mask or covering while inside or in line to get into an indoor public space. They will be required for people looking for health services, including visiting a clinic, doctor, dentist, or pharmacy.
Masks will also be required while riding in public transportation, ride-hailing cars, and taxis.
Workers will also be required to wear masks while interacting with members of the public, or if they work with food.
Children under the age of 2, people with medical or mental disabilities, and those who are hearing impaired, or communicating with anyone who is hearing impaired, are among those who are exempt from the order.
People who are running, walking, bicycling, or hiking are also exempt — as long as they can keep a distance of 6 feet from other people, according to the order.
The governor's guidance does not mention how the new order will be enforced, or what the consequences would be for people who do not follow it.