Kern County officials are asking businesses to make the wearing of face masks a requirement for service.
The urgent request was made as the county teeters in and out of compliance with state coronavirus guidelines that could result in measures being taken should cases rise.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an order requiring the wearing of masks in most public spaces. On June 24, the governor threatened to withhold $2.5 billion in funding from local governments that don't uphold state mask requirements.
Despite the increased number of cases since the county began reopening, Kern officials said during a Thursday news conference that the county was doing a good job responding to COVID-19, and the risk of contracting the virus while in public was low as long as businesses and patrons followed state guidelines.
“Businesses, you can be a helpful participant in this endeavor in our community by simply posting a sign on your door and asking your customers to have a mask on,” Kern Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said during the conference. “A big part of making sure that the community is wearing masks are businesses helping us out with this. It’s a very, very easy thing to do.”
He suggested businesses refuse to serve customers without masks, or suggest shopping online. He repeated the mantra, “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.”
The wearing of masks has become a divisive issue not only locally, but across the nation. While many continue to don face coverings whenever they go outside, others have refused, saying masks are uncomfortable and questioning their usefulness.
The Kern County Public Health Services Department has continuously advocated for masks over the past several weeks. Kim Hernandez, lead epidemiologist with the health department, said masks are an important tool to stopping the spread of the coronavirus, in addition to social distancing and hand-washing.
“This is one of many of the tools that we recommend to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19,” she said. “Face masks and cloth face coverings are intended as what we call source control. So when I wear a mask, that is to protect me from transmitting to other people. What that does is, it keeps any virus or other germs that we might be exhaling close to me and on my face.”
She added that face coverings don't replace physical distancing, washing hands, or staying home when sick.
“If you look at our health care facilities for many many years, our health care providers have employed this as a measure of source control in our health care system,” she continued. “So we are broadening it now outside of our health care system, to apply it to the rest of our daily lives to provide additional protection to all of those around us.”
The state has set several metrics counties must meet in order to continue allowing businesses and other activities to function. The state is monitoring categories such as the average case rate per 100,000 residents over 14 days and change in percentage of hospitalized patients over three days.
On Thursday, the state showed Kern County out of compliance in three categories, including case rate and hospitalizations.
Officials have said the county is likely to move in and out of compliance with the state moving forward, while wearing masks can help keep the county from straying too far from the acceptable baseline.