Bandana used as a face covering
A bandana used as a face covering during the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency

Health officials on Thursday urged all San Diego County residents to begin wearing face coverings and announced new social distancing restrictions as coronavirus cases grew by 117 and another death was reported.

Effective at midnight on Saturday, a cloth face covering will be required of essential workers who deal with the public — including at pharmacies, groceries and gas stations –and recommended for all residents when leaving home.

“You can cover your face with any type of fabric — a bandana, a turtleneck, there are numerous types of cloth materials that can be used for this purpose to cover your nose and your month,” said County Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten, adding that the N95 and surgical masks that are in short supply should not be used for this purpose.

Ron Fong, president and CEO of California Grocers Association, expressed concern about whether enough face coverings could be secured by the Saturday night deadline.

“With such short notice given by San Diego County, grocery companies will be scrambling to be in compliance,” he said. “We look forward to hearing from the county quickly on how it will support grocers securing appropriate face coverings.”

County officials also announced that parking lots at all parks and recreation areas would be closed and outdoor activities limited to walking, hiking and bicycling, with group sports like volleyball prohibited.

Sheriff Bill Gore said deputies will begin enforcing these and other public health orders by issuing citations. The citations carry a maximum $1,000 fine and possible jail time.

“The days of trying to get voluntary compliance are really over. We will start issuing citations,” said Gore at the county’s regular afternoon briefing.

Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s medical director of epidemiology, said the latest victim of the virus was a 98-year-old woman. A total of 16 people have now died in the county.

Total COVID-19 cases in the county have now increased to 966, and McDonald predicted there would be over 1,000 by Friday.

Updated at 9:45 p.m., Thursday, April 2, 2020

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.