Bay Area residents urged to resume wearing face masks while indoors

The message from eight Bay Area health officers is to get your masks back out again as the COVID-19 Delta variant is circulates, and hospitalizations as well as cases are on the rise.

They're now recommending everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. If you go to the grocery store, the theater, or anywhere else indoors, you should wear a mask.

The idea is that it will offer an extra layer of protection for everyone.

"As soon as we see signals that things are worsening, it's important to act quickly if we've got the evidence to do so," says Dr. Sarah Rudman, Assistant Health Officer of Santa Clara County.

And they say the evidence is mounting. In San Francisco, they've seen an 8-fold increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. In Santa Clara County, numbers have tripled.

This week alone, Contra Costa County’s reported new cases are averaging 93 per day and the daily case rate is now 5.7 per 100,000 and rising, the joint news release from most of the Bay Area health departments said. And in June, the delta variants comprised 43 percent of all specimens sequenced in California

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"In our county public health lab just in the last two weeks about 43-percent of the cases we could sequence were that more transmissible Delta variant. And that worries us that we need that added layer of protection for everyone," says Rudman.

And so the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, and the City of Berkeley joined forces to put out the mask recommendation.

And at this point, it is just a recommendation.

"It is not a mandate. We do realize that we are asking people to make a sacrifice," says Dr. Susan Philip, Health Officer for San Francisco.

They say masking, will help protect the most vulnerable in the population.

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It will also buy officials more time to see whether a spike in cases, will be followed by a spike in hospitalizations.

"And it's very possible that they will not increase as we're worried they might. We're doing this out of an abundance of caution. Because to wait to act, would not be the wise thing to do and lives could be lost unnecessarily," says Philip.

The Bay Area recommendations come one day after Los Angeles County ordered its residents to again be required to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, while the University of California system said that students, faculty and staff must be inoculated against the coronavirus to return to campuses.

But infectious disease experts say, that might not be needed here thanks to a much higher vaccination rate.

"So when you think about the potential strain on hospital resources, it's a much higher probability in southern California than the north," says Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, of UCSF.

And so health officials will wait, hopeful the hospitals don't fill up and hopeful that residents, even vaccinated ones, wear their masks again.

In Santa Clara County, Marissa Muniz says she will.

"We just want to get back to our regular lives so bad, we just forget how important it is to stay safe," she says.

Health officers say they will keep an eye on the numbers and decide later whether the mask recommendation should become a mandate. In the meantime, they advise anyone who can, to get vaccinated.