LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just days after recommending that people wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Riverside County went a step further and ordered all residents to cover their faces when leaving home, as the number of infections and deaths continued to rise across California.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the top health officer in the state’s fourth-most populous county, said “not everybody’s getting the message” about social distancing while in public, so officials were forced to “change from saying that you should to saying that you must.”
The order issued Saturday also prohibits all gatherings except for family members living in the same home, according to a county statement. Police would enforce the regulations “as they deem necessary,” the statement said.
Serene Weir said many people are wearing masks in her neighborhood in Los Angeles, where officials urged residents to cover their faces but stopped short of requiring it.
“I’m really surprised by the number of people not wearing them,” she said. “I think we all need to be doing our part.”
Weir, a nurse, sewed her own homemade mask and planned to make at least 100 more to donate to hospitals who lack critical protective gear.
Riverside County’s announcement came the day before Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for Christians. Most churches have moved their services online.
But a church near Sacramento went ahead with a Sunday service in defiance of orders to avoid large gatherings. After a two-hour service at which he told parishioners to remain the required 6 feet (1.83 meters) apart, the pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship Church in Roseville announced he was ending in-person services until further notice.
Pastor Doug Bird told the Sacramento Bee that he had received an email from county health officials Saturday encouraging him to halt services. But he said he held the service anyway because many of his congregants have no access to the internet and needed to hear the announcement from him.
A church in the agricultural Central Valley that said it intended to gather for worship canceled its plans Sunday when someone changed the locks to the building. The pastor of Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi told congregants who came for Palm Sunday that the building the church uses for services was shut.
Police entered the church during a service attended by about 30 people last week and said the worshipers were defying the state’s stay-at-home order. The church sent the city a “cease and desist” letter and argued they had a First Amendment right to gather and practice their religion.
“Constitutional rights cannot be suspended by a virus,” said the church’s attorney, Dean Broyles.
In Southern California, Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park streamed its Sunday service online but opened its sanctuary doors afterward for communion. A few dozen parishioners observed social distancing rules as they waited in line to enter and receive the sacramental bread and wine.
California has recorded nearly 13,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 virus infections and at least 320 deaths, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Los Angeles County announced 15 new deaths Sunday — for a total of 132. The state’s largest county also identified 1,374 new cases over a 48-hour period, bringing the total number to 5,940.
Riverside last week became the first California county to recommend residents wear masks in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus before hospitals become overwhelmed with an anticipated surge of patients. Los Angeles and counties in the San Francisco Bay Area followed suit by urging residents to cover their mouths and noses. And San Diego County on Saturday ordered all essential workers to wear masks.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco urged residents to follow the new rules after his department lost two deputies to COVID-19. “I am asking all of you to honor them by staying at home,” Bianco said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday announced California has cut its COVID-19 testing backlog by more than two-thirds, but has still managed to test less than one half of 1% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents.
California has tested 126,000 people. Of those, 13,000 test results were still pending as of Friday. That’s down from the 59,500 pending results that were reported Thursday.
The coronavirus mainly is spread though coughs and sneezes. For most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Newsom has not stepped up statewide enforcement of his stay-at-home order. But he warned people to obey local authorities.
“The state is always prepared to do more. I just want to encourage people, don’t force our hand in that respect,” Newsom said during his Saturday briefing. “We cannot allow cabin fever to come in. We cannot allow people to start congregating again.”