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April 1, 2020, 9:57 p.m. EDT

Los Angeles mayor urges everyone to wear masks to battle coronavirus

Leave N95 masks for health workers, Garcetti says, but wear bandanas or homemade masks while shopping

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By Associated Press

AFP/Getty Images
A person wearing a mask walks on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Wednesday.

LOS ANGELES — The mayor of Los Angeles on Wednesday told everyone in the nation’s second-largest city to start wearing masks to combat the coronavirus, but California’s governor isn’t ready to take that idea statewide.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday he’s focused instead on keeping people inside. He also announced the state may need 66,000 additional hospital beds, 16,000 more than previously forecast, to handle the crush of illnesses expected during the second part of May.

At an afternoon news conference, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he had been awaiting advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on mask-wearing but with the COVID-19 rate surging had decided to wait no longer.

The mayor said all 4 million residents who are performing essential tasks such as food shopping should wear homemade, non-medical face coverings, or even bandannas, as people in other COVID-19-struck countries have done.

“To be clear, you should still stay at home. This isn’t an excuse to suddenly all go out,” Garcetti said.

He also said people shouldn’t use medical-grade masks, which are in short supply and are needed by health care workers and first responders.

The mayor said even a “tucked-in bandanna” could slow the spread of the virus and the masks also are good for reminding people to keep their distance.

“I know it will look surreal,” he said, donning a mask. “We’re going to have to get used to seeing each other like this ... This will be the look.”

Los Angeles County reported more than 500 new cases on Wednesday, a 17% hike over the previous day.

Garcetti’s announcement came after Riverside County public health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser urged that people who need to go out in public should use something — even bandanas or neck warmers — to cover their mouths and noses to protect others and themselves.

The governor had been expected to release guidelines for masks, but at his own news conference Newsom said he did not think they should be a substitute for keeping a safe distance from other people and taking additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

“They are not a substitute for a stay-at-home order. They are not a call to get folks to find N95 masks or surgical masks and pull them away or compete against our first responders,” Newsom said.

Newsom focused instead on adding thousands more hospital beds than previously stated. He now projects needing 66,000 more hospital beds for the anticipated peak of cases in late May — 16,000 more than his prior projections.

In Riverside County, Kaiser said the virus is transmitted in droplets that can be spread through coughs or sneezes, so some type of covering could help even if it’s not a hospital-grade mask.

Kaiser issued the recommendation because the state’s fourth-largest county was seeing infections rise faster than predicted. At the current rate, he said Wednesday that it would run out of hospital beds April 12 and ventilators by April 26.

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