Santa Clara County health care workers must stay masked
Health care workers at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose. Workers and visitors to Santa Clara County hospitals still need to wear masks following an administrative policy from County Executive Jeff Smith. File photo.

    Santa Clara County is requiring masks to be worn in hospitals and other high-risk settings, days after the state relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.

    County Executive Jeff Smith sent an email to staff Tuesday evening informing them that workers and visitors must continue to wear masks at county facilities including hospitals, clinics, long-term care homes, jails and homeless shelters. The policy also applies to medical first responders when providing care.

    Smith told San José Spotlight the decision is not a public health order, but an administrative policy.

    “In light of the unique and continuing risks of COVID-19 transmission in higher-risk settings, the County is maintaining its existing requirement that County personnel and visitors at higher-risk settings in County facilities wear compliant face coverings while indoors in those higher-risk settings,” Smith said in the email to staff.

    The email comes one day after California loosened restrictions on masking, as well as no longer requiring health care workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The state also said people with the virus can end isolation after five days. Santa Clara County swiftly responded to the coronavirus, being the first in the nation to declare a public health emergency on Feb. 10, 2020 for the virus, when there were two confirmed cases of the disease in the county and 13 nationwide.

    Allan Kamara, president of the Santa Clara County Registered Nurses Professional Association, said union members are frustrated by the decision. He’s been fielding calls and texts from members opposing the policy.

    “County union employees should not be held to a different standard than other county health care workers like those at Stanford and Kaiser,” Kamara San José Spotlight. “The county should follow the state’s orders about loosening restrictions.”

    Smith’s directive comes at a time when county public officials, health care workers and advocates are trying to find the balance between loosening restrictions where possible in the face of changing public behavior, while protecting residents at high risk of severe infection and caring for populations like the homeless and incarcerated.

    “I believe local health officials will have to gauge their own level and tolerance for risk of transmission now that federal and state governments are lifting emergency measures,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of global health, infectious diseases and epidemiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, told San José Spotlight. “This will be a transition period as we see how omicron continues to circulate in communities.”

    Maldonado said she is waiting for the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s upcoming approval of a second bivalent booster to further reduce the risk of hospitalizations and death in vulnerable individuals.

    Contact Josh Ram at [email protected] or at @JoshuaWRam on Twitter.

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