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California to reimpose indoor mask mandate statewide when omicron arrives

California will re-impose indoor mask warrants in public places for all residents, regardless of immunization status, from Wednesday to January 15, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr Mark Ghaly said on Monday.

The news comes shortly after the rapidly spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus arrived in the state, with 24 cases reported statewide on Monday.

For many parts of the Bay Area – which recently lifted indoor mask warrants in some settings after reaching high vaccination rates and low case rates – the state’s announcement will mean a return to masking indoor in offices, gymnasiums and other places where vaccinated people may have gone without a mask.

The state’s decision does not appear to affect indoor dining rules, which will continue to allow customers to remove masks while eating and drinking.

New York state also recently imposed a broad mask mandate that went into effect Monday and will remain in place until January 15.

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In addition to tightening mask rules, California will require people attending mega-events of 1,000 or more that do not require vaccination to show proof of a negative test taken within one day for an antigen test and within two days for a PCR test. The previous window was 72 hours.

And it will recommend that travelers arriving in the state get tested three to five days after arrival, regardless of their vaccination status.

California has always required that unvaccinated people wear masks indoors, but the rules for masks for vaccinated people vary by county. In several Bay Area counties, vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks indoors in certain environments, such as the San Francisco, Contra Costa and Alameda county offices where everyone is vaccinated. And Marin County no longer requires residents to wear masks in most public places because it has such a high vaccination rate.

The inside-state masking rule that goes into effect on Wednesday will override those local exemptions, Bay Area Health Services said on Monday.

“To align with California requirements, San Francisco is suspending its current mask exemption for stable cohorts of 100% vaccinated individuals (which includes certain workplaces, gyms and other selected locations) until that the state order be lifted, currently set for Jan. 15, ”the San Francisco Department of Public Health said in a statement.

After Jan. 15, “California will make further recommendations as necessary in response to the pandemic,” the state said on Monday.

Some business owners have taken the news eagerly. “I don’t think an extra month will cause additional frills,” said Dave Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness in San Francisco and spokesperson for the SF Independent Fitness Studio Coalition. “Everyone we work with is focused on health and wellness. These are the people who think first and foremost about how to stay safe and how to keep people safe. “

The return of universal indoor masking statewide is meant to avoid a repeat of last winter’s deadly wave, which in California marked the worst time of the pandemic to date. Between late December 2020 and February 2021, 20,000 Californians died from COVID, Ghaly said.

Statewide COVID case rates have jumped 47% since Thanksgiving, from 9.6 cases per 100,000 people per day to 14 cases per 100,000 people per day, Ghaly said. And hospitalizations have increased by 14%.

“This is a critical time,” Ghaly said. “We have a tool that we know has worked and can work. We are proactively implementing this universal inner masking tool to make sure we go through a time of joy and hope without a darker cloud of despair. Californians have done it before and we think we can do it again. “

The omicron variant, which has sparked harsh warnings and further restrictions in Britain, is also clouding officials’ vision for the future.

“On June 1 I was upbeat we were heading towards the end of the game and unfortunately found out that was not the case with delta,” said John Swartzberg, infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley. School of Public Health. “Now we see omicron and it’s hard to guess how many other tricks this virus has up its sleeve. “

Swartzberg said the data is “very compelling” that omicron is more effective at evading immunity both to the vaccine and to previous infection.

Some infectious disease experts said California’s decision was too blunt and ignored the large differences in vaccination and hospitalization rates across the state. Marin and San Francisco counties, for example, have vaccination rates of 80% or more and manage to keep hospital admissions relatively low and stable, while many counties in the Central Valley are vaccinated below 50% and are experiencing an increase in hospitalizations.

“Imposing a statewide mask warrant somehow takes away the ability for local county officers to make their own decision based on vaccination and hospitalization rates,” said Dr Monica Gandhi, specialist. infectious diseases at UCSF. “In this case, the blunt instruments kind of don’t give you any nuance on that aspect of the reward for high-vaccination areas.” We are entering winter in a really good place here in San Francisco. I think that is overkill, that it is brutal and that it will be pushed back into the state of California. “

Chronicle editor Aidin Vaziri contributed to this report.

Catherine Ho is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Cat_Ho