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Regional Interests

California Once Again Recommends Everyone Mask Up Indoors

California health officials on Wednesday formally recommended that everyone resume wearing a face covering indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

The recommendation comes one day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued similar guidance for people who live in areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates.

According to the California Department of Public Health, more than 90% of the state’s residents live in areas with “substantial or high” transmission of the virus. That ubiquity has been primarily driven by the highly-contagious delta variant, which has brought a wave of new cases, predominantly among the unvaccinated.

Although COVID-19 rates are still far below where they were during the winter surge earlier this year, the number of new infections throughout California has shot up in recent weeks. Some 7,000 new cases are now being reported daily, up from a low of around 600 new cases in early June. And the 7-day test positivity rate is now nearly 6%, up from less than 1%.

“The delta variant has caused a sharp increase in hospitalizations and case rates across the state,” CDPH Director and state Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragón said in a statement. “We are recommending masking in indoor public places to slow the spread while we continue efforts to get more Californians vaccinated.”

Public health officials in 10 of the 11 greater Bay Area counties — with the exception of Solano County — issued similar guidance over the last two weeks, urging residents to wear face coverings inside public places like grocery and retail stores, theaters and family entertainment centers.

Some jurisdictions, like San Mateo County, have taken the step of requiring masks indoors at county facilities like offices and clinics. And just over a week ago, Los Angeles County became the first county in California to reinstate an order requiring that everyone wear masks indoors in public spaces.

The state also recently announced that students will be required to wear masks when they return to school next month, regardless of vaccination status.

In Santa Clara, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, public health officials have urged employers to go a step further and require their employees to get vaccinated or be frequently tested for COVID-19.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced this week that vaccinations or weekly tests will be soon required for state employees and health care workers.

State and local officials have so far shied away from instituting a full vaccination mandate, instead opting to work with community-based organizations to persuade eligible residents to get the shot, and repeatedly underscoring that the vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe illness and death.

“We’re mindful that there are a lot of people that are still anxious, a lot of people that still need to work with doctors and private settings to work through those anxieties,” Newsom said Tuesday.

The governor, who faces a recall election in September driven largely by criticism over his handling of the pandemic, has frequently argued that potential mask and vaccination mandates are not necessary as long as enough residents get innoculated.

More than 70% of Californians 12 and over are now at least partially vaccinated, a rate notably higher than in most other states. But the pace of vaccinations in the Golden State has slowed considerably in recent weeks, with millions of eligible residents still unprotected.

Unvaccinated Californians can go to myturn.ca.gov or call (833) 422-4255 to schedule their appointment or go to myturn.ca.gov/clinic to find a walk-in clinic in their county.

This post includes reporting from KQED’s Matthew Green and Eli Walsh from Bay City News. 

Copyright 2021 KQED