Tourists don face masks in San Francisco. Several Bay Area counties are now requiring face coverings to be worn in public. (Photo by Steve Disenhof/Pro Bono Photo)

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With a number of Bay Area counties and some cities issuing rules requiring the use of face coverings in public as tentative steps are taken to reopen the economy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Santa Clara County officials are adopting a somewhat less restrictive approach.

Santa Clara County on Friday announced new guidance “strongly urging” the public to wear non-medical face coverings when outside.

In a new culturally shifting precaution, the county’s Public Health Department asked residents to wear any kind of fabric, cloth or “breathable material that will cover nose and mouth” during essential public activities, such as while grocery shopping, visiting the doctor or riding public transit.

“We are strongly urging everyone in our community to wear face coverings,” Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a statement Friday. “Staying home, minimizing even essential activities, and reducing contact with others is still the most important tool. But, when we do have to go out into the public, face covering is a critical tool to reduce asymptomatic transmission.”

Due to a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment, the county does not recommend using medical grade protective equipment, to allow healthcare providers greater access to needed materials from existing supplies.

Santa Clara County has been one of the hardest hit regions of the state since COVID-19 first began its spread here in February. As of Monday morning, the county had 1,870 confirmed cases of the virus, with 74 deaths.

Santa Clara’s stance on face coverings is in sharp contrast to the requirements imposed in at least six other counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Sonoma — all of which planned to phase in the rule by the middle of this week.

The city of Berkeley announced its own set of rules on Friday. Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez gave the order “mandating the use of face coverings for everyone, especially customers and workers in essential businesses.”

The order was made “so that infected people without symptoms don’t unintentionally spread COVID-19,” Hernandez said in an announcement.

“While we have seen many people cover their faces in public since the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Bay Area health officers first recommended face coverings two weeks ago, it has not been enough,” Hernandez said.

The order took effect immediately, but the city is allowing a grace period until 8 a.m. Wednesday before beginning enforcement, the city said.

“Face coverings are not a substitute for staying home, staying 6 feet apart, and washing your hands regularly,” Hernandez said. “A covering over mouth and nose is an additional tool in our arsenal of weapons to fight COVID-19. No end date has been set for when this requirement will end, so prepare accordingly.”