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California sheriff says public health officer’s coronavirus order to cover faces ‘enforceable,’ but calls for calm

A California sheriff warned his county Monday that a recent order by the public health officer for people to cover their faces while outside during the coronavirus crisis is “enforceable,” but he called for calm, saying it’s not “a declaration of martial law.”

Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer, on Saturday banned all gatherings of “any number of people” other than relatives living together in the same home. He also ordered people in the county to wear face coverings outside their homes.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco posted a video to YouTube to address the ban, just days after the department announced that two deputies with COVID-19 had died.

“Right now, you could be a carrier of this virus, spreading it to your family and friends,” Bianco said.

It’s unclear when deputies would issue fines or arrest people who violate the face mask order, but the county said local law enforcement agencies had the power to enforce the order “as they deem necessary.”

Bianco noted that the enforcement may include fines or imprisonment, but stressed that his department would not set up roadside checkpoints to stop vehicles or people hiking, walking or running without masks.

“We will not be setting up any type of police state,” he said. “And, this is not a declaration of martial law in Riverside County.”

Acceptable face coverings include bandanas, scarves and “clothing that does not have visible holes.” However, the county has been discouraging residents from buying N95 or surgical masks, arguing they were in short supply and necessary for health-care workers and first responders.

“Not everybody’s getting the message,” Kaiser said. “It started with staying home, social distance and covering your face. But now we change that from saying that you should to saying that you must.”

The order is set to run through April 30.

Essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations and health-care providers are exempt from the portion of the order prohibiting gatherings. Churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and other religious buildings are banned from hosting services — even at drive-in events.

Still, Bianco asked people not to distract first responders from emergency work over people who disobey the order.

“Do not call 9-1-1 to report potential violations,” he said. “Cover your faces. Stay at home unless absolutely necessary, and help out your neighbors as much as possible.”

The U.S. has seen at least 379,965 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Tuesday afternoon, with 12,021 of them fatal. There were at least 16,429 cases in California and 397 deaths.

This past Thursday, two deputies of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department died from COVID-19. They were Deputy Terrell Young, a married father of four who joined the department in 2005, and Deputy David Werksman, a married father of three who joined in 1998.