Should you wear a mask to go out? State, county leaders weigh in
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino are spearheading a drive for medical supplies amid the coronavirus outbreak. Photo courtesy of Chavez's office.

    Californians have gotten mixed messages about wearing face masks in public to protect against COVID-19, but state and Santa Clara County officials aligned on Thursday.

    Public health leaders in the Bay Area Thursday night recommended residents use non-medical, cloth face coverings when they go out for essential purposes.

    Covering one’s mouth and nose can reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus, local officials said, but they also stressed that a mask does not replace the current guidelines, like increased hand washing and social distancing.

    “Wearing a face covering is an additional strategy to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19,” Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s health officer, said in a statement Thursday. “We know that a person can spread the virus before they develop symptoms, or even if they never develop symptoms.”

    That matches advice that residents got from Dr. Sonia Angell, California’s public health officer, on Wednesday.

    Angell said she’d been hesitant to encourage residents to use masks because that could embolden people to get physically closer to one another. She also noted that the masks wouldn’t work if people still touch the mask or their face before washing their hands.

    Even so, some kind of face covering may help filter out particles from coughing and sneezing that could temporarily be in the air from those with the respiratory illness — whether they know they’ve been infected or not.

    “The most important thing is physical distancing and when that is done with some additional face coverings, you may get some additional protection,” Angell said.

    While state officials didn’t specifically discourage residents from using certain types of masks, Bay Area leaders stressed that residents should not go pick up N-95 or surgical masks.

    Hospitals around the country, including those in the South Bay, are facing a shortage of personal protective equipment for frontline workers, leaving doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police and other essential employees unprotected.

    “Medical masks are in short supply and need to be reserved for health care personnel,” county officials said. “Examples of recommended coverings include bandanas and home-sewn fabric coverings.”

    Some residents have already been busy making face masks for frontline workers and others. Organizations have started donating supplies and launching fundraisers to purchase protective equipment for hospitals.

    One fund, set up by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, has received more than $4 million in donations that will go to the Valley Medical Center Foundation to distribute to Santa Clara County medical professionals and hospitals.

    Financial donations to buy supplies for health care workers can be made by clicking here or equipment can be taken directly to the Valley Medical Center Foundation at 2400 Clove Dr. in San Jose.

    Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

    Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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