Alameda County last week issued an order requiring members of the public to wear face masks outside their homes to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Interim health officer Dr. Erica Pan said face coverings should be made of cloth or other soft material, permeable but without holes, and should cover only the nose, mouth and areas of the lower face. Medical-grade masks are not required.

Members of the public are required to wear a mask when inside or waiting in line to enter an essential business, such as grocery stores; waiting in line or using public transportation; or visiting a healthcare facility or provider.

Employees, contractors and owners are also required to wear face masks while working at an essential business. That includes those who are operating public transportation or other shared transportation, regardless of whether there are passengers at the time.

Businesses are required to take “reasonable measures,” such as posting signs, to remind clients and customers about wearing a mask, and may not serve customers who are not wearing masks.

There are exceptions.

The order does not apply to people alone in their own cars, or riding with members of their own household. It does not apply to people engaged in outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, bicycling or running, although they are encouraged to keep a face covering with them and continue to practice social distancing.

Nor does it apply to workers in their personal offices or work spaces not regularly visited by the public when others are not around, or if a face covering could pose a workplace safety hazard.

The order also does not apply to children 12 and under, and specifically states that children 2 and under should not wear a face mask because of the risk of suffocation. Also exempt are people who have been advised by a medical professional that a face mask may pose a health risk or have difficulty breathing.

Officials were expected to begin enforcing the emergency public health order this week. Violating the order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.