Essential workers in Orange County, including at grocery stores, are now being advised to wear non-medical grade masks in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

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Health Officer Nichole Quick issued an advisory Thursday “strongly encouraging” all essential employees masks, which include food industry and health care workers.  

Officials are urging people to not buy the much-needed medical masks, like the N95, because the county, state and federal government are all facing crucial supply shortages of the masks. 

“Residents can make their own face coverings at home from a variety of materials and should refrain from purchasing personal protective equipment that is critical and in short supply for our healthcare workers, such as N95 and surgical masks,” Quick said in a Thursday news release. 

Nothing in the advisory requires employers to provide masks to their employees. 

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, county officials indicated Quick was going to issue a health order similar to other counties and cities near OC. 

OC Director of Public Health Services, David Souleles, said Quick was meeting with staff at the emergency operations center Tuesday to form the new health order, the same time he was giving the novel coronavirus update to county supervisors. 

“The health officer is looking at, essentially, an order around face coverings for essential workers,” Souleles said. “It brings us into better alignment with surrounding jurisdictions.”

Irvine issued an order Wednesday requiring masks for all essential employees in the city. 

Los Angeles residents and workers will be required to wear masks starting tomorrow. 

And LA County Supervisors are looking to require grocery employees and other food industry businesses provide gloves and masks to its employees, as well as mandate hand-washing breaks.  

San Diego mandated all essential workers, like grocery store workers, wear masks last week. And Riverside County ordered all residents outside of their homes to wear masks.

Over the past few weeks, grocery workers and their union have been fighting with the grocery chains for more handwashing breaks, better sanitation and relaxed rules that would allow for masks. They have made some progress on all fronts, including sneeze guards at checkstands. 

At the OC Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Supervisor Andrew Do tried to get his colleagues to support an emergency order that would’ve required masks for food industry workers  at grocery stores, take out restaurants and other food services. 

But his proposal died for lack of support and the other supervisors said they wanted to wait for Quick before potentially considering any other measures. 

“I do not think we should wait until we have a perfectly crafted order,” Do told his colleagues. “So I’m being very measured in the way I’m asking for this order …  Let’s at least tackle the food service part of it, because that’s the part that affects all of us every day.” 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the virus killed 17 people in the county, with 1,016 confirmed cases out of nearly 12,000 people tested. There’s also 99 people hospitalized, with 59 in intensive care units.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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