County to crack down on COVID violators, orders face masks at some businesses

County health officials on Thursday advised all people who go outside to cover their faces to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Albert Einstein Academy Principal Andy Trakas, above, is shown wearing a protective face mask while carrying lunches to a waiting car in a drive-through service the school has established for students and other children who are in need and live in the area.
(John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Residents were also encouraged to wear facial coverage

If you leave your place, cover your face.

That is the advice from county health officials who on Thursday, April 2, also announced a new order requiring employees who interact with the public to cover their faces to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Beginning midnight Friday, April 3, all employees at grocery stores, pharmacies/drug stores, convenience stores and gas stations are required to wear a cloth covering their face at work if they come into contact with the public as part of their job.

In other new orders, parking lots at beaches and all public parks will be closed to discourage people from driving to neighborhoods where they still are open, and activities in the parks will be restricted to passive recreation, meaning no basketball or similar sports.

In response to the order, the City of Del Mar has closed the basketball court and public parking at Shores Park.

In a separate action, the city of Carlsbad has prohibited parking along 6 miles near a popular beach.

County officials said their new orders could save lives and are necessary because some people still were not complying with orders for people to not gather in groups.

“I think the days of trying to get voluntary compliance are really over,” said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore. “The message is going to go out to all of public safety here in the county that we will start issuing citations for violations of the public order and the governor’s executive order.”

Gore said the maximum penalty for violating the order is a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Sheriff’s deputies and police officers in cities throughout the county may carry out the enforcement, he said.

Law enforcement agencies will rely on reports of violators from the public, but they should not call 911. They instead are asked to call the non-emergency number of the law enforcement agency in their jurisdiction or fill out a form that can be found online at https://211sandiego.org beginning April 4.

“If you see a violation of the order, please report it,” San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox said at the Thursday. April 2, press briefing.

The website does not provide a form to report non-essential businesses that still are in operation, but Sheriff’s Lt. Ricardo Lopez wrote in an email that people could report those violators by calling the non-emergency numbers of their cities. Those numbers are available on the same site as the form for reporting other violators.

County health officials last month ordered all restaurants in the county to serve only take-out and ordered the closure of all bars, gyms and other non-essential businesses.

Also on Thursday, Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of epidemiology and immunization services for the county, reported one more local death of COVID-19 and said the number of coronavirus infections had reached 966, an increase of 117 from Wednesday.

The person who died, a 98 year old woman, brings the total of county resident deaths to 16.

McDonald reported that of the people with the disease, 439 are female, 514 are male and 13 are of unknown gender. COVID-19 has hospitalized 181 people and placed 70 in intensive care.

“Stay safe, and when you leave your place, cover your face,” McDonald said.

The order for some employees to wear face coverings, and the recommendation that everybody wear them when leaving their homes, comes after health experts re-considered their value in recent days.

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said people did not need to wear masks unless they were sick or coughing.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, however, said in an interview this week that the advice was being reviewed after new data showed up to 25 percent of infected people may not have symptoms, but could be transmitting the disease.

A National Academy of Sciences panel also reportedly has told the White House that the virus may spread simply by being near someone talking or even breathing, prompting more discussions about the potential value of facial coverings.

San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said the covering could be a bandanna or even a turtleneck that is pulled up to cover someone’s nose and mouth.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said at the briefing that beginning Friday, April 3, at midnight, the county was strongly recommending people follow the state’s recommendation issued that day on wearing facial coverage in public.

He stressed that people should not, however, wear medical-grade facial masks. If they have those, they should be taken to a medical facility to be deployed to frontline medical workers.

Fletcher also said that while there is evidence the masks could provide some benefit in curbing the spread of the virus, people should not get a false sense of security by wearing them and should continue practice social distancing, hand-washing and should stay at home.

In another order, essential businesses that have remained open will be required to create a document outlining their protocol on physical distancing and hygiene. The document must be available to the public and employees and be posted at the entrance to the business beginning midnight Monday, April 6.

Fletcher said suggested language and examples of documents would be available on a county website.

Public parks and recreational facilities throughout the county also must post their physical distancing protocol, and the county will call on closure of parking lots at those facilities beginning midnight Friday, April 3, Fletcher said.

Each jurisdiction can make its own decision about whether to keep their parks and recreation facilities open, but Fletcher said that has resulted in an inordinate amount of people crowding places that remain open. Closing parking lots will limit users to people who can walk to them, he said.

Also on Thursday, April 2, the city of Carlsbad announced it is prohibiting parking along nearly six miles of state-owned coastline starting Friday.

Carlsbad closed the northernmost beach that is controlled by the city on March 23 and has made formal requests that the state follow suit. To date, the state has closed beach parking lots, but not the beach. Since most other beaches in the county are closed, people are coming from miles around to the beaches in Carlsbad.

“We are in the middle of a serious public health emergency, and the City of Carlsbad is going to do everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Carlsbad City Manager Scott Chadwick.

Over the past two weeks, the city’s Police Department has put up signs, handed out hundreds of informational fliers, and had officers at the beach encouraging compliance with the health orders. In spite of these efforts, the city continues to observe and document instances of people gathering and not maintaining 6 feet of distance from each other.

County public health officials said at a news conference Wednesday, April 1, that the county is still in the early days of the outbreak, and April will be a critical month for following all health directives. Otherwise, officials warn that COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization and ventilators will outpace local health care capacity, leading to significantly more deaths from the new virus.

The no parking rule will start April 3 at 5 a.m. The area affected includes the east and west sides of Carlsbad Boulevard from Pine to La Costa avenues, Ponto Drive and Ponto Road. City crews will put up signs and barricades in the affected areas.

Carlsbad declared a local emergency March 16. This action, among other things, gives the city manager, acting as the director of emergency services, the authority to take immediate steps to protect health and safety. The City Council will be asked to approve the parking ban by adopting an urgency ordinance at its next meeting, April 7.

The Carlsbad Police Department will enforce the new rule with citations that carry fines starting at $50.

Also on Thursday, April 2, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer issued a call for local businesses to produce critical items needed during the pandemic.

“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.”

Some businesses already have answered the call. All 19 of San Diego’s distillers are making hand-sanitizers, which have been in short supply throughout the country.

ResMed, best known for making sleep apnea machines, is working to double or even triple production of hospital ventilators amid growing fears of shortages.

-- Gary Warth and Phil Diehl are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune

--Reporter Lyndsay Winkley contributed to this story.

Updates:

8:41 AM, Apr. 03, 2020: This story was updated April 3 at 8:41 a.m.


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