Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau, who is also the interim public health officer, Thursday issued a new order regarding facial coverings, making it a “strong recommendation” to wear one instead of a requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But face coverings are still required in grocery stores, restaurants and other food-industry shops as well as pharmacies. That’s because of an ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors in April.
The expected change in policy countywide comes days after Dr. Nichole Quick, who issued the mask mandate last month, abruptly resigned Monday evening following threats and a protest in front of her home as well as push back from two Orange County supervisors.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she wants to keep the county’s mask ordinance adopted in April to remain in place for grocery stores and other retail businesses.
“I want to keep that in effect not only to protect the public but the workers,” Bartlett said. “There are certain businesses where you can’t do the six feet of social distancing.”
Supervisor Andrew Do, the vice chairman of the board, agreed.
Bartlett said the mask order will help boost confidence of diners and shoppers.
“I think the public at-large would feel more comfortable knowing that businesses are taking those extra precautions when they can’t socially distance,” Bartlett said.
Chau on Tuesday defended Quick’s mask order, which was issued as county officials received permission from the state to reopen some businesses, including dine-in restaurants.
But he explained at a news conference Thursday that he changed his mind due to new state guidelines that recommend face coverings instead of mandating them.
“We want to be consistent with the state,” Chau said. He said his opinion was also informed by discussions with his staff, epidemiologists and other academic experts.
If there is an uptick in cases that pushes the county beyond guidelines the state has established, then officials can reconsider a face-covering mandate again, Chau said.
“If our numbers go out of range, we have to submit a remediation plan to the state,” Chau said.
That could involve a closure of businesses again, Chau said.
The modification of the mask order “does not diminish the importance of face coverings,” Chau said.
“I believe that wearing a face covering helps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Chau said. “And wearing a face mask is not to protect yourself. It is to protect your neighbors and others … We’re all in this together, don’t forget that … It is up to all of us to continue to work together as a community to maintain and improve our wellness in Orange County.”
Quick said she issued the mask mandate, which was required whenever a resident cannot maintain six feet of social distancing, because she feared an outbreak of cases as more people congregated amid a relaxation of stay-at-home orders.
Chau attributed an uptick in coronavirus cases of late to the Memorial Day holiday.
“This is a remnant of what happened over Memorial Day weekend. We expected that,” Chau said.
Chau was appointed interim public health officer on Tuesday. Chau, who also has a doctorate in clinical psychology, was appointed head of the Health Care Agency in April to succeed Richard Sanchez, who took over as head of CalOptima, the county’s insurance program for low-income residents.
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