COVID-19 Policy Tracker
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Key Takeaways:

  • As the social pressure to wear a mask outside the home builds, will governments mandate mask-wearing?
  • Localities in several states have already announced mandates for the public or employees to wear masks.
  • As mask mandates spread across localities, statewide mandates are likely to follow.

The public safety responses to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States have come in waves of federal, state, and local recommendations and mandates. The past month has looked something like this: wash your hands, avoid large crowds, bye-bye sporting events, no groups bigger than ten people, close restaurants and bars, close gyms and movie theaters, work from home, close all remaining non-essential businesses, shelter in place. And despite all these restrictions, health experts have tentatively encouraged us to spend a little time outside, exercise, and breathe in some fresh air to avoid going completely stir crazy staying at home all day. 

And if you’ve wandered outside or to the grocery store, you might have caught sight of the latest trend in response to COVID-19. Masks have managed to stir up controversy as the pandemic has spread. Initial recommendations from health organizations like the WHO, CDC, and the U.S. Surgeon General specifically advised healthy individuals to not wear masks. Surgical masks and the specialized N95 respirators are in short supply and needed most critically in hospitals on the front line of treating COVID-19 patients. But as the experts were questioned, their stance began to soften and even reverse and now the number of DIY-mask clad individuals roaming the sidewalks and produce aisles has risen in urban centers. 

Localities Mandating Masks

As the social pressure to wear a mask outside the home builds, will governments mandate mask-wearing? It’s early, but we’re seeing a trend moving quickly in that direction. 

On Saturday, Riverside County in California ordered residents to cover their faces when leaving their homes. The order clarifies that face coverings “can be bandanas, scarves, neck gaiters or other clothing that does not have visible holes.” And Riverside County also warned that “residents should not purchase N95 or surgical masks, as these limited resources are needed for the healthcare community and first responders.” Also on Saturday, San Diego County amended its stay-at-home order to mandate employees of essential businesses who may come into contact with the public wear a cloth face covering. The order puts the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the order on business owners. Yesterday, Los Angeles announced an order, effective Friday, requiring residents to wear face coverings when visiting essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and laundromats. The Los Angeles order also requires employees at most essential businesses to wear masks (at the expense of their employer) while on the job. 

Similar to how stay-at-home orders began a few weeks ago, mask mandates have started on the local level in California and are beginning to spread to other localities around the country. In Laredo, Texas, the city has ordered that “all persons over the age of five are required to wear some form of covering (such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief) over their nose and mouth at all times.” The order goes into effect on Thursday and has exceptions for when residents are in their homes, exercising outside, or driving a car.  Violators could face a $1,000 fine. In Oklahoma, the cities of Altus and Guthrie will require residents to wear face masks when out in public. 

Just the Beginning?

Localities in other states are discussing and will likely enact their own mask mandates in the coming days. Subsequent statewide orders are likely to follow, especially if you look at the recent pattern of adoption of public health restrictions. 

We're keeping track of which states and localities are enforcing mask mandates, updated daily, and many other government actions on coronavirus via our COVID-19 Policy Tracker