California recommends masks for all indoors amid COVID surge
The California Department of Public Health said Wednesday that even people vaccinated against COVID-19 should wear masks indoors in public places, a shift from its guidance in mid-June that the immunized were protected enough to forgo masks.
“The delta variant has caused a sharp increase in hospitalizations and case rates across the state,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH director and state public health officer. “We are recommending masking in indoor public places to slow the spread while we continue efforts to get more Californians vaccinated.”
Most Bay Area counties and others across the state already had recommended masksfor everyone indoors regardless of vaccination. Los Angeles County has made that an order, but the state declined to mandate masks again.
The state announcement came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance on face coverings, which since mid-May had said that those who had been vaccinated did not need to wear masks except on public transportation, in schools, health care, shelter and correctional facilities.
California adopted that guidance June 15 when the state retired most of its pandemic restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.
The CDC on Tuesday said masks should be worn indoors even by the vaccinated in areas of substantial or high transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Aragon said Wednesday that more than 90% of California’s population is in such areas. California’s revision does not distinguish between areas of high or low transmission.
In California, 36 of the state’s 58 counties now have seven-day average COVID-19 daily case rates over 10 per 100,000 residents, which would have put them under the highest, “purple tier” restrictions in the reopening blueprint the state retired June 15. That’s triple the 12 counties at that rate just a week earlier.
Among those counties in the Bay Area are San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Alameda, Sonoma, Napa and Solano. Santa Clara and Marin counties would be in the second-highest, “red tier” of restrictions.
Masks are already required for unvaccinated people in indoor public settings and businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers, meetings, and state and local government offices serving the public.
The new mask recommendations come at a time when California and the country expected the pandemic to be a fading memory, defeated by vaccines that have been shown to be highly effective in preventing infections and especially severe illness leading to hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
Almost half of all Americans and nearly 58% of those 12 and older eligible for the shots have been inoculated. In California, more than 52% are fully vaccinated, including more than 61% of those 12 and older.
But many parts of the country are seeing what CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky called “really extraordinary levels of viral transmission,” at more than three times the rate that the CDC considers “high.” That is being driven by the delta virus variant that devastated India in the spring and has spread globally since, accounting for eight of 10 samples genetically sequenced nationally and in California.
Walensky said that new evidence indicates that even the vaccinated can transmit the virus.
“In rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with delta variant may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” Walensky said Tuesday. “This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update of our guidance.”