A coalition of Bay Area health officials urged residents across the region Friday to resume wearing a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status following an uptick in COVID-19 cases. 

“The Delta variant has higher transmissibility, which means it is more contagious. The epidemic is spreading faster in communities because the virus is more contagious,” San Mateo County Chief of Health Louise Rogers said in a press release. 

Officials in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties and the city of Berkeley issued the advisory “out of an abundance of caution” but have yet to issue a new masking mandate for shared indoor spaces like grocery and retail stores. 

The health officials also stressed that fully vaccinated residents remain well-protected both from contracting the virus, including the currently observed variants, and from becoming seriously ill or dying.

Employees are encouraged to continue following the masking guidelines set by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and their employers. They are also encouraged to wear a mask indoors when their employers have not verified the vaccination status of their co-workers. 

Concerns largely loom for those who have yet to be vaccinated, just more than 10% of the more than 666,250 San Mateo County residents ages 12 and older who are eligible for inoculation. According to recent national data, unvaccinated individuals account for roughly 95% of hospitalizations and deaths, Rogers said in the release. 

“The good news is that the vaccines are effective against the delta variant,” Rogers said. “Unfortunately, the bad news is that because vaccination gaps remain, there is an increase of cases throughout the Bay Area and California, primarily in unvaccinated communities.” 

The recommendation comes on the heels of Los Angeles County issuing a new mask mandate for indoor spaces this week amid an increase in COVID-19 cases, almost exclusively among the unvaccinated, and the proliferation of the more-transmissible delta variant. 

“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 in a statement.

David Canepa, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, has routinely encouraged residents to mask up before outings but now he said the public should follow federal and state guidance which permits fully vaccinated people to go without face coverings. 

Split on messaging 

Clear messaging from health officials is vital, Canepa said, noting the recommendation is not a mandate. He expressed concerns the recommendation could cause conflicts among residents and create confusion around the need for vaccines. 

Canepa also shared doubts that vaccine hesitant residents would access shots if not alarmed by news of the delta variant. 

“If we can’t get them to vaccinate now I don’t know that death on their doorstep will ever get them there,” Canepa said. 

Alternatively, District 4 Supervisor Warren Slocum said he agrees with the recommendation. The district is home to a large portion of the county’s Latino population which has been hardest hit by the pandemic, accounting for more than half of all COVID-19 infections. 

With a vaccination rate of about 50%, the population also trails in vaccinations compared to the county’s overall rate of 89.4% and other racial and ethic groups. Vaccines have reached 114% of Native Americans and Alaska Natives, 99.2% of Asians residents, 79.7% of white residents, 57.7% of Black residents and 57.7% of Pacific Islanders. 

“We have a pandemic of the unvaccinated and it’s important for all family members to protect one another by wearing a mask and getting a vaccine shot,” Slocum said in an email. “The delta virus that is now spreading in California is especially contagious and people need to mask up once again for everyone’s health and safety.” 

While the Bay Area is one of the most vaccinated regions in the state and country, local health officials had recognized the potential for renewed mask requirements in recent weeks as the delta variant became more of a threat, particularly for unvaccinated people. 

“The Bay Area is very, very diverse and there’s hot spots, within the Bay Area, of unvaccinated populations,” Marin County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Lisa Santora said earlier this month. “So we would expect to see, especially in more rural areas (and) consistent with other rural areas across the nation, that you’ll see increased rates of cases.”

Protecting the unvaccinated 

The indoor masking recommendation, the county health officials said in a joint statement, is intended to help protect unvaccinated residents, who are orders of magnitude more likely right now to contract the virus and be hospitalized with serious illness.

On Friday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky went as far as to say the virus “is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

In San Mateo County, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents is 4.6 infections. And hospitalizations tripled in a matter of days from four confirmed patients on Wednesday, July 14 to 12 as of Thursday.  

It’s unclear how many patients have been vaccinated but County Health spokesperson Preston Merchant said the department is internally tracking case, hospitalization and death data by vaccination status. The department plans to share the data publicly once comfortable with its vetting process, he said. 

In Contra Costa County, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents was 1.7 for fully vaccinated residents as of July 8 and 16.1 per 100,000 for unvaccinated residents. 

“The highly infectious delta variant is now the predominant strain in Contra Costa County,” Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said. “While vaccines remain our best tool against COVID-19, masking in indoor and crowded outdoor settings will help us curb the spread of this latest wave of infection.”

The coalition of health officers is expected to revisit the recommendation in the coming weeks after monitoring local case and hospitalization data. 

State officials have also been hesitant, for now, to re-issue mask and social distancing requirements statewide, instead deferring to local health agencies to do what they feel suits their constituents. 

As of Friday, California’s rate of new cases per 100,000 residents sits at 5.4.

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(8) comments

Terence Y

Folks, if we’re only at delta and officials want you to mask up again, wait until we get the epsilon, zeta, eta, and theta variants. By that time, we’ll be back under house arrest. or worse. Just say no to masks. Masks haven’t been proven to be effective against spread of the airborne virus. For anyone with kids, think twice or three times before forcing your young‘un to be vaccinated. Young folks appear to have more issues with existing vaccines than older people. Even though young‘un’s have the smallest chance of being adversely affected by COVID. Either that, or wait until the government provides a lifetime life insurance policy (amount determined by what you feel each young’un is worth) in the event something happens to your kid because of the “jab.”

Tafhdyd

Dr. Terence, (No offense to real doctors)

Where is your back up info for your assertions?

Terence Y

Taffy, as usual, I’m not doing your homework for you. Give a man a fish and all that... I’ll give you a few hints… Search for “kids dying from COVID vaccination” and “risk of COVID death in children” and I’m sure you’ll even find some of your favorite fake news sites to educate you. As for masks not being effective, I already provided a number of links last month and you should have done your homework back then. You may want to focus on mask pore size and COVID particle size. Meanwhile, the FDA is adding a new warning on the J&J jab related to an autoimmune nerve disorder.

Scott McVicker

Start with move transmissible, but less dangerous. See how the UK is experiencing the delta variant. Deaths have flatlined.

I refuse to be influenced by the pearl-clutching, Branch Covidian Doomsters who lift their skirts at the latest variant. Let THEM take multiple jabs, wear masks forever and stay separate from the rational people who understand that societies must learn to live with this virus.

Time to move on.

Tafhdyd

Mr. McVicker,

There is a saying you must have heard before. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. If you don't like the way local and national governments are doing things, why don't you run for office and change things? If that doesn't sound good, you summed things up in your closing comment, "Time to move on." I am sure there are plenty of like minded folks in Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, etc. that would be happy to welcome you if you move on.

Terence Y

Hey Mr. Nagler, if you’re out there reading comments… So much for your plea – we can see Taffy isn’t interested in nurturing his dissimilar heart and instead would prefer to be part of the problem and not part of the solution. In fact, it appears Taffy is becoming (more?) xenophobic. I wonder if Taffy followed my advice and did his homework. I assume Taffy is now in full agreement with me as there hasn't been any pushback.

Scott McVicker

Ah yes, the go-along-to-get-along reply. And where has that led us? To ruin. Borrowed to the eyeballs. With deeply damaging Societal impacts which will take years to unwind. Allow me to point out that this is not working. You noticed, yes? So then the challenge becomes, accept new ideas and/or reasoning based on the accumulated data...or get out of the way.

I see your church wishes to banish the non-believers. To places far away so your prayers are uninterrupted. In the absence of an actual argument, that appears to be the standard reply.

What you may not have considered is that the Delta variant is a gift. The elderly and susceptible have been given the experimental injection, the young are at very low risk. Drop the masks, distancing, lockdowns and allow this variant to pass through the population. That way the majority have natural immunity come the seasonal triggering in October. The end of "case" counts, the campaign of fear, the behavioral manipulation and the end of the MSM hysteria regarding "vaccines".

Scott McVicker

Run for office and change things...

No thanks on the co-opting. Government has been part of the problem. Top down, lowest common denominator thinking where, once decisions from on high are made, the departments fall in line. One of the truths to be taken from this declared pandemic is that LESS government is better.

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