With cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant on a rapid rise, a coalition of Bay Area county health officials urged local vaccinated residents to once again wear masks indoors in public places.
The measure is voluntary and comes after Los Angeles County said its residents will be required to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, beginning late Saturday.
The plea was issued Friday locally by health officials in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties, and the city of Berkeley, CBS SF Bay Area reports.
“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,” said San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip.
“The Delta variant is spreading quickly, and everyone should take action to protect themselves and others against this potentially deadly virus,” Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss said.
For the first time since January, COVID-19 infections are up in all 50 states. New cases over the past week surged 69%, while hospitalizations are up 36%, and deaths have increased 26%, Michael George reported for “CBS This Morning: Saturday.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unvaccinated Americans are driving the numbers, accounting for nearly all deaths and almost all of the hospitalizations.
“99.5% of all the deaths to COVID are in unvaccinated people,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci. “That’s a very, very striking statistic that should get people to appreciate why it’s so important to get vaccinated.”
Doctors say vaccinated people do have a strong level of protection against the Delta variant, but masks are still important to stop the virus from spreading to others.
Officials in the Bay Area said the mask recommendation for places like retail stores, grocery stores and theaters is out of an abundance of caution. It is recommended even for people who are vaccinated “as an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents,” officials said.
“Businesses are urged to adopt universal masking requirements for customers entering indoor areas of their businesses to provide better protection to their employees and customers,” the statement continued.
In San Jose, Sushi Confidential owner Randy Musterer said he’s not sure yet what he’ll require of his customers or employees after Friday’s announcement.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re possibly going to fall back again,” Musterer said. “We were hoping that we were coming out of the pandemic, especially here in the Bay Area — approaching herd immunity.”
Bay Area Health Officers will revisit this recommendation in the coming weeks as they continue to monitor transmission rates, hospitalizations, deaths and increasing vaccination rates throughout the region.
In San Francisco, cases are rising among the unvaccinated. Black and Latino people are getting shots at a lower rate than others and Mayor London Breed urged them to get the vaccine. She said Thursday that every person hospitalized with COVID-19 at San Francisco General Hospital is unvaccinated and most are African American.
San Francisco supervisor Shamann Walton said the highest number of cases are in the Bayview District, a largely Black neighborhood, “because we are not doing everything we can to protect each other. This is a cry to my community … We need you to get vaccinated.”
San Francisco has one of the highest overall vaccination rates in the nation’s most populated state. At least 83% of residents 12 and older have received at least one dose.
Word that Bay Area health officials are once again asking people to put on their masks while indoors regardless of their vaccination status comes as a disappointment to many.
“I feel like we’re just now getting back to normal and asking the people who are vaccinated to put their masks on once again, I feel, is not fair,” said Ashtyn Civelli of Campbell.
Santa Clara County has one of the highest vaccination rates of any large county in the nation, with 76% now fully vaccinated. Even there, the virus and its variants are spreading.
“Unfortunately, even though we have very high rates of vaccination and the excellent protection that affords, we are still seeing our case rates rise,” said assistant health officer Dr. Sarah Rudman.
Rudman said cases are still well below the winter surge but have tripled in recent weeks.
“Especially among the unvaccinated population and those who are not yet eligible, including our younger population,” she said.
Rudman said the recommendation is a way to ensure that unvaccinated people are wearing their masks.
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