Milpitas became the first Santa Clara County city to require face coverings this week in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Beginning Friday, workers and customers must wear masks inside essential businesses in the South Bay city.
The city’s actions come as six Bay Area counties now require face coverings when in public, including Alameda, which abuts Milpitas, where the county began enforcing its order Wednesday. Santa Clara County, however, has only issued guidance “strongly urging” people to wear cloth face coverings, and local cities aren’t aligned on enforcement either.
“By enacting this order, Milpitas is being a leader in our county,” Councilmember Carmen Montano said in a statement. “Face coverings help protect the most vulnerable in our community. We want to flatten the curve and keep our health system from being overwhelmed, and this is the best, safest way to do that.”
During its virtual meeting Tuesday, Milpitas councilmembers unanimously directed staff to issue a regulation requiring people to wear masks at businesses allowed to remain open amid the pandemic, such as grocery stores, health care facilities, gas stations, hardware stores and pharmacies. However, children 6 years and younger do not have to wear face coverings, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against masks on children under 2.
Customers shopping for essential needs are instructed to use cloth face coverings as opposed to surgical and N95 medical-grade masks, officials said, which should be reserved for health care providers and first responders.
Milpitas Assistant City Manager Ashwini Kantak said councilmembers felt strongly about taking action, especially given the number of asymptomatic cases of the novel coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness known as COVID-19.
As of Thursday, Santa Clara County has 1,987 cases and 95 deaths. Milpitas had 66 cases.
The California Department of Public Health says face coverings can help reduce transmission from asymptomatic COVID-19-positive people. The CDC also encourages using face masks in public, especially in places where social distancing measures of staying 6 feet apart are difficult to maintain.
San Jose, which borders Milpitas, doesn’t require masks. According to Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office, there aren’t plans to institute face covering orders, but the city is taking direction from county health officials.
Last Friday, Santa Clara County health officials issued guidance for people to wear face coverings while doing essential activities in public. The Board of Supervisors doesn’t have plans to take action on face coverings, according to a spokesperson for Board President Cindy Chavez.
The county Emergency Operations Center did not immediately respond for comment Thursday.
“We are strongly urging everyone in our community to wear face coverings,” Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s health officer, said in a statement announcing county guidance. “Staying home, minimizing even essential activities, and reducing contact with others is still the most important tool. But, when we do have to go out into the public, a face covering is a critical tool to reduce asymptomatic transmission.”
Milpitas’ order, which takes effect Friday, will prioritize education on face coverings before enforcement.
However, code enforcement officers can issue citations for people who don’t comply with the order. The city hasn’t had issues with any previous public health measures after informing residents of new orders, but fines start at $100 before escalating to $500 for three or more violations, Kantak said.
Read San José Spotlight’s story on making your own mask and how to properly wear it.