SAN BERNARDINO — San Bernardino County health officials now recommend people use face coverings when leaving home to conduct essential business such as grocery shopping, going to a medical appointment or visiting a pharmacy.

The county made the recommendation after reviewing guidance released Wednesday, April 1, from the state Department of Public Health.

Staying home, practicing social distancing and frequent hand-washing are far more effective ways to combat the spread of COVID-19, and face coverings are not a substitute for continuing those practices, said acting county Public Health Officer Dr. Erin Gustafson.

When the new coronavirus began showing up in the United States, health agencies recommended that only people who were sick or who worked in health care should wear masks. Now, growing numbers of agencies are conceding that covering the face and mouth might do some good in stopping the spread — although they ask that everyone leave medical masks for professional health care workers.

Riverside County recommended its residents wear coverings earlier this week.

All health agencies warn that even when your mouth and nose are covered, you still must stay six feet away from everyone not in your home, wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and follow all the other guidances from the CDC.

Face coverings may include coverings that secure to the ears or back of the head and encompass the mouth and nose.

Homemade cloth ear loop covers, bandannas, handkerchiefs, and neck gaiters may be used to reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly among people who aren’t showing symptoms, but still might have the virus.

Researchers believe a person may have the new coronavirus for up to 14 days before showing symptoms. Those people can spread the virus without realizing they have it, according to the World Health Organization and CDC.

Some people may also never show symptoms, but still carry the disease, those agencies say.

“Surgical masks and N95 masks should not be used because they must be preserved for health care workers and emergency responders,” Gustafson said. “If you do use a face covering, make sure to practice frequent hand washing before and after touching and adjusting the covering.”

Wash cloth face coverings frequently after each use — at least daily. Wash them in detergent with hot water and dry on a hot cycle. Discard cloth face coverings that no longer cover the nose and mouth, have stretched out or damaged ties and straps, cannot stay on the face or have holes or tears in the fabric.

“Covering your face may help reduce the chance that asymptomatic people spread COVID-19. This is not as effective as staying home and practicing social distancing,” said Curt Hagman, chairman of the county board of supervisors. “We all need to do our part to flatten the curve and residents should use this as one more tool to stop the spread of this disease.”

For more information, the public can call the county’s coronavirus public information line from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at (909) 387-3911, or email the county at coronavirus@dph.sbcounty.gov.

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