Food industry workers may be required to wear face masks as Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick is ironing out a health order. 

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But that uncertainty prompted Supervisor Andrew Do’s failed effort on an emergency order that would require non-medical masks for food industry workers at grocery stores, take out restaurants and other food services. 

But his proposal died for lack of support at a Tuesday meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. 

“I’m being put in a very difficult position. I don’t want us to appear divided and conflicted as a county. I have made suggestions and I have gotten pushback and I have seen other jurisdictions follow it,” Do told his board colleagues. 

County Supervisor Don Wagner said supervisors should wait for Quick until making any decision. 

“Several of us up here are lawyers and none of us up here are doctors,” Wagner said. “We have scrupulously followed her and her directions throughout this C19 issue. And I think that we would be unwise to get away from that procedure now … I don’t want to get us in front of the doctor on this.”

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.”

He didn’t have many other specifics on the order. 

Los Angeles County is 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 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. 

As of Tuesday morning, it was still unclear on who exactly Quick’s incoming order could be directed, but Souleles said “there was discussion about potentially including all essential workers.” 

Do said essential workers could fall under a broad definition and the County should start with the food industry — grocery stores and take out restaurants — since that’s where people get a bulk of their food from. 

“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.” 

Chairwoman Supervisor Michelle Steel cut Do off before he made his motion. 

“We are waiting for the health officer who has knowledge and direction … so why don’t we just wait? We really care about our residents and at the same time we really care about what our health officer says,” Steel told Do. 

Do said if CDC and state health department guidelines recommend people put on non-medical masks when they leave home, it only makes sense to require food workers wear them. 

“Face covering is protective against COVID-19 — at least the widespread transmission. And if we believe that in a social setting, there’s no reason in the world to not apply that to the food industry.”  

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

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