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Wear Masks Indoors Again Even if You’re Vaccinated, Urge Bay Area Health Officials

Health officials in seven Bay Area counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma — on Friday strongly urged all residents to again wear masks in public indoor spaces amid a recent sharp uptick in new COVID-19 cases fuelled by the highly contagious delta variant. Including those who are fully vaccinated.

In a joint statement, officials noted that fully vaccinated people are “well-protected from infections and serious illness due to known COVID-19 variants including Delta variants,” but stressed that those who are unvaccinated are at serious risk. The new recommendation, they said, was intended to better ensure that unvaccinated people wear masks, and “as an extra precautionary measure for all.”

“Out of an abundance of caution, people are recommended to wear masks indoors in settings like grocery or retail stores, theaters, and family entertainment centers, even if they are fully vaccinated as an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents,” the statement said. Officials also urged businesses to adopt universal masking requirements for their employees and customers in indoor areas.

Although coronavirus rates are still much lower than they were earlier this year, new cases have jumped throughout the Bay Area and across California — and much of the country — almost exclusively among unvaccinated people.

More than 3,600 new cases were reported in California on Thursday, the most since late February, but a far cry from the winter peak that saw an average of more than 40,000 per day. And there are now more than 1,700 coronavirus-related hospitalizations throughout the state, the highest level since April.

“We are asking our residents to collectively come together again in this effort to stem the rising cases until we can assess how our hospital capacity will be impacted,” San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip said in the statement.

In June, the Delta variant made up 43% of all specimens sequenced in California, health officials said, and is now responsible for 58% of new infections across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The Delta variant is spreading quickly, and everyone should take action to protect themselves and others against this potentially deadly virus,” said Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss in the statement. “After vaccination, masking is the next most powerful tool we have to protect ourselves and each other during this latest wave of infections.”

The new recommendation comes a day after Los Angeles County officials announced that masks will again be required in indoor public spaces starting Sunday, regardless of vaccine status. It’s the first county in California to reinstate that mandate since the state dropped it last month for vaccinated people.

Although Bay Area health officials stopped short of a full-on requirement, they said they would continue to monitor transmission rates, hospitalizations, deaths and increasing vaccination rates throughout the region in the coming weeks.

“That requirement may still come,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, the health officer for Contra Costa County, where case rates have more than doubled in the last month. “We’d like to see what effect a strong recommendation may have.”

Copyright 2021 KQED