With concerns about COVID-19 infections on the rise once more, San Jose city workers are required to wear masks for the next two weeks.
The temporary measure is in place from Friday until May 20 and only affects workers at city facilities.
The decision comes one month after the City Council voted to rescind the citywide masking requirement, as the BA.2 subvariant, a second strain of the omicron variant, spreads. Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 data reports the seven-day rolling average at 481 new infections, compared to the low point in mid-March at about 140 cases.
City spokesperson Carolina Camarena told San José Spotlight the city’s decision is based on county data and out of “an abundance of caution.”
“We are constantly monitoring the data and COVID-19 increases and decreases and we adjust accordingly,” Camarena said. “There has been, unfortunately, a significant increase in countywide COVID cases. We want to keep our employees safe and continue to be able to provide essential services to our community.”
As of Friday, Santa Clara County still has a required mask mandate for all its employees in county facilities, according to a county spokesperson.
Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody said in an update to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the county is in its sixth coronavirus wave—and BA.2 has “all but replaced omicron.”
“It’s come relatively quickly after the resolution of the last surge,” Cody said, adding this variant is about 30% more transmissible than omicron. She said reported outbreaks are increasing at schools and workplaces, and wastewater data covering about 1.9 million of the county’s population shows increased levels of BA.2. There is also a sublineage of the variant circulating, BA.2.12.2, which is even more transmissible than BA.2, Cody said.
While COVID hospitalizations have been relatively level for more than a month, Cody said the county is beginning to see a rise in admissions.
All nine Bay Area counties fall under the “high” level of coronavirus transmission rates, reporting more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, according to a report Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Thursday, San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties are reporting an average of more than 270 cases per 100,000 residents. Alameda County is reporting an average of 184 cases per 100,000 residents and is requiring employees in government facilities to continue wearing masks. The Oakland City Council voted Tuesday to implement a mask mandate for indoor gatherings of 2,500 people or more.
George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco, called San Jose’s decision to require masking for city workers “quite prudent” given the highly infectious nature of BA.2 and BA.2.12.2.
“We’re in a situation with increasing transmission, fewer people taking precautions… and waning immunity from naturally acquired infection in December and January,” he told San José Spotlight.
Rutherford added there’s bound to be COVID transmission as people “back away from” distancing and masking.
“We’re relying on home testing and people’s understanding of what they need to do… and we’ll have to see what happens in the next several months,” he said.
Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story contained a typo on the number of coronavirus transmission rates.