The California Department of Public Health formally recommended Wednesday that state residents resume wearing a face covering indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
The recommendation comes one day after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued similar guidance for people who live in areas with high COVID-19 case and transmission rates.
According to CDPH officials, more than 90 percent of the state’s population lives in areas with “substantial or high” transmission of the virus, driven primarily by the ultra-contagious delta variant and a wave of new cases that are almost exclusively among the unvaccinated.
“The delta variant has caused a sharp increase in hospitalizations and case rates across the state,” CDPH Director and state Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon. “We are recommending masking in indoor public places to slow the spread while we continue efforts to get more Californians vaccinated.”
Public health officials in 10 of the 11 counties in the greater Bay Area, the exception being Solano County, issued similar guidance over the last two weeks, urging residents to wear face coverings inside public places like grocery and retail stores, theaters and family entertainment centers, especially those which are not requiring vaccination for entry.
Some jurisdictions like San Mateo County have taken the step of requiring masks indoors at county facilities like offices and clinics.
The state has also announced that students will be required to wear masks in class regardless of their vaccination status when the fall term begins.
In Santa Clara, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, public health officials have urged employers to go one step further and mandate that their employees get vaccinated or be subject to frequent COVID-19 testing, arguing that people are now faced with the choice of getting vaccinated or contracting the coronavirus.
Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced this week that state employees and health care workers will be required to get vaccinated if they haven’t already or get tested at least once a week.
State and local officials have so far shied away from committing to a full vaccination mandate, instead opting to work with community-based organizations to persuade eligible residents to get vaccinated and frequently reiterating the vaccines’ safety and efficacy at preventing severe illness and death.
“We’re mindful that there are a lot of people that are still anxious, a lot of people that still need to work with doctors and private settings to work through those anxieties,” Newsom said Tuesday.
Newsom has frequently argued that potential mask and vaccination mandates will be unnecessary provided that enough residents get vaccinated to quell new outbreaks of the virus.