Bay Area health officials are now urging all residents to mask up when indoors out of rising concerns of the highly-infectious Delta variant.
Santa Clara County, joined by a coalition of six other Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley, recommends all residents resume wearing masks inside—regardless of vaccination status.
“Out of an abundance of caution, people are recommended to wear masks indoors in settings like grocery or retail stores, theaters, and family entertainment centers, even if they are fully vaccinated as an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents,” the joint statement reads.
According to the California Department of Public Health, the Delta variant made up 43% of all positive test samples sequenced in the state. It is believed that the variant is twice as transmissible as the original virus, said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of global health and infectious diseases at Stanford University.
Fully vaccinated people are still well-protected from becoming infected or seriously ill, even from the highly contagious Delta variant, she added.
“With what we know, we’re still very confident in the vaccine,” Maldonado said. “If it’s a big surge (in cases), I’d be concerned, but vaccinated people are pretty safe.”
But wearing a mask indoors could be “an extra precautionary measure” for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, as it would help reduce the risk of getting and transmitting the virus, local health officials said.
“Unvaccinated individuals are really driving the decision here,” Maldonado said. “They’re affecting everybody.”
The decision came one day after Los Angeles County announced it will reinstate a mask mandate indoors amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Sacramento, Fresno and Yolo counties have also issued a mask recommendation this week, leading to speculation that the Bay Area would be next.
The number of COVID-19 cases are also spiking locally, according to the county’s dashboard. Santa Clara County is now seeing an average of 76 new cases per day. The daily case rate is now 3.9 per 100,000.
Some public health experts told San José Spotlight that it’s a matter of time before the area sees an outbreak by the new variant.
The Delta variant is responsible for 99 total positive infections in the county as of July 15.
In Santa Clara County, 76.5% of eligible residents, or 1.3 million people, are fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the state.
The California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that vaccinated people need not cover their faces indoors, once again conflicting with local recommendations.
Businesses are also encouraged to adopt universal mask requirements to protect their workers and other patrons.
Maldonado said the counties’ mask recommendation doesn’t surprise her with the rate of new cases, but she doesn’t think the Bay Area will impose a mask mandate anytime soon. The announcement Friday was merely a recommendation.
“It doesn’t mean that we should stop going out,” Maldonado said. “We just need to be more careful indoors.”
Public health officials said they’ll revisit the recommendation in the coming weeks based on transmission rates, hospitalizations and deaths.
Regardless of the recommendations, masks are still required in medical facilities, on public transit, in schools, prisons and homeless shelters. Unvaccinated workers must wear masks at work indoors.
Click here to find available walk-up vaccination clinics in San Jose.