Employees and customers of certain retail outlets in the county are now required to wear face coverings during the COVID-19 emergency, according to a health order issued by Travis Gayles, M.D., the county’s health officer.

The order, effective today (April 13), covers grocery stores, pharmacies and large chain retailers (“big-box” stores), as well as farmers markets under guidance released by Gayles on Friday.

Customers may use cloth masks, including homemade versions, scarfs or bandanas, while Gayles urged residents to reserve masks intended for healthcare settings, such as N95 masks, for healthcare workers.

While customers who violate the order would not face penalties, businesses would have the right to refuse service to anyone not wearing a mask.

“This is about maximizing the safety of others, and we urge residents to do this, as we continue to try to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Gayles said in a press release.

The order also sets certain requirements for businesses, including:

  • Limiting the number of customers in the store at any one time
  • Promoting physical distancing in lines outside the store via required signs and markings
  • Proving face coverings for all employees, and
  • Allowing employees to wash their hands a minimum of every 30 minutes with provided soap and sanitizers.

Businesses that violate the order are subject to a $500 fine, with a $750 fine for each subsequent violation.

“We are working on many fronts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Protecting shoppers and store employees is critical,” Gayles said in the initial announcement.

In addition, the order recommends that businesses provide sanitation products, such as disinfectant wipes or alcohol swabs, to use on shopping carts or baskets, and where possible, install clear barriers between cashiers and customers.

Following Gayle’s release of the health order, Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Gabe Albornoz (both D-At Large), rescinded plans to introduce a Board of Health regulation that would have imposed similar requirements for face coverings on customers and employees.

“We welcome County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayle’s new emergency health order requiring shoppers to wear facial coverings, as well as related protections for retail workers,” the two said Friday in a joint statement. “In light of this we will withdraw our proposed health regulation and monitor the progress and success of the Health Officer’s approach.”

Image from Wikimedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Mike Diegel