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Riverside County will not require medical-grade masks amid Omicron surge

Health officials in California are starting to require medical-grade masks for workers and employers, as the highly contagious Omicron variant fuels COVID-19 cases nationwide.

Riverside County has confirmed to News Channel 3 it will not require medical-grade masks indoors. Deputy Public Health Officer, Dr. Jennifer Chevinsky, said the county will "continue to follow Cal/OSHA and CDPH guidance, so the recommendations they have in place, we’re following suit.”

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is requiring masks to be worn in all indoor public settings, irrespective of vaccine status, until February 15, 2022. 

Masks are required for all individuals in all indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status from December 15, 2021 through February 15, 2022 [surgical masks or higher-level respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) with good fit are recommended].

Recently, Los Angeles County health officials revised an existing mandate, requiring workers to wear masks that offer a higher level of protection than cloth masks, such as N95 or KN95. Employers must also provide adequate masks to staff.

Los Angeles County Thursday reported the highest number of new coronavirus cases ever recorded for a single day in the area. More than 37,000 new positive COVID-19 cases were confirmed, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The figure broke last Friday's record of more than 27,000.

Meanwhile, Riverside County is also experiencing an increase in new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19. County health officials Thursday reported more than 1,800 new cases from Wednesday.

The Riverside County Public Health Department encourages individuals to upgrade their masks, according to Dr. Chevinsky. She said getting "either a surgical mask, KN95, N95 or double-mask with a surgical mask and a cloth mask over top it's a great opportunity to do so in order to protect yourself."

However, there are calls for county health officials to enforce stricter indoor masking requirements. Mike Monachino, who serves as the Coachella Valley Repertory Board President, said he thinks medical-grade masks should be a must. He noted the facility he oversees uses masks that are considered appropriate by health officials. Monachino said they have invested thousands of dollars for the season to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers, and guests.

The funds have been geared toward not only providing masks to anyone inside the building without one, but conducting CIVID-19 testing twice a week for performers, installing plexiglass at the sound booth and around the stage area, isolating actors, cleaning crews, and other safety measures to ensure shows can continue to happen.

Monachino said "its not easy" taking these additional steps, and noted they have lost customers over it. However, he said keeping everyone safe is a top priority. Monachino added, “it would be nice if everybody else followed the same ground rules because we get a lot of feedback that says well we don’t have to do this or nobody checks us in a restaurant.”

The CDC and CDPH have both issued guidance to help consumers identify and avoid acquiring counterfeit masks, particularly when making on-line purchases. Individuals are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the guidance if they are concerned about ensuring they have the most appropriate masks available.

Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing developments.

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Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is the weekend anchor/weekday reporter for KESQ News Channel 3

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