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Indoor mask mandate returns Tuesday for everyone in Bay Area

By Ann Peterson

Managing editor


(Monday, Aug. 2) Bay Area health officers issued an indoor mask mandate that begins Tuesday, Aug. 3 for everyone — regardless of vaccination status. All residents must wear masks when working indoors or visiting public indoor spaces, which includes all Rossmoor facilities.

Contra Costa Health Services Director Dr. Chris Farnitano said that hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have doubled in the past 10 days and were up 400% in the month of July. He added that 4 out of 5 hospitalizations are for people not vaccinated but this is still coming at a time when 4 out of 5 county residents have received the vaccine.

The county health officials acknowledged that fully vaccinated are less likely to become severely ill and hospitalized, but there is evidence that the vaccinated can still spread the virus, which puts those who can’t be vaccinated at risk.

“The delta variant is an aggressive and more contagious variant,” said Dr. Sundari Mase from Sonoma County’s health department. “This is not the same virus we combatted a year ago or even a month ago.”

Santa Clara Deputy Health Officer Dr. George Han said this is why the new mask mandate is necessary. “We need more protection and that comes from masks. The virus doesn’t care what indoor space you’re in — public buildings or someone’s home. When you’re in an indoor space with people you don’t live with, you’re at risk.”

Health officials said individuals should wear surgical or medical-grade masks. If they don’t have access to those, a well-fitting cloth mask also works. The mouth and nose need to be covered by the face covering.

Dr. Lisa Santora from Marin County called this a “short-term” solution designed to keep schools and businesses open.

The new mask mandate does not restrict indoor eating in restaurants but as with previous orders, masks can be removed only when actively eating. Health officials did stress that the older population and those with underlying medical conditions are still at risk and should take precautions, possibly even avoiding indoor settings like dining where masks are not always worn.

The county health officials also didn’t rule out the possibility of additional restrictions if hospitalizations continue to rise.

“Last winter hospitals were perilously close to full. Hospitals were overwhelmed. Patients had to be transferred to other hospitals to find available ICU beds,” Farnitano said. “We didn’t get to that point in the Bay Area but we got close. In Contra Costa we’re less than half of the winter hospitalizations and I’m hoping with the mask order, we can avoid reaching those winter numbers.

“The mandate is driven by the data and we’re watching things closely. We will be watching the data as we have all along on a daily basis and make decisions based on the data.”

How long the current mask mandate lasts will depend on hospitalization rates, Farnitano added. “We’re looking at the hospitalization rates as a key indicator. If we get down to where they were in mid-June, we can think about easing off some of these restrictions.”