A worker prepares individual packets of masks at Alta Baja Market in Santa Ana
Brandon Gremchuck prepares packets of masks Sunday to give to customers at Alta Baja Market in Santa Ana.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Health & Wellness

Bay Area counties mandate indoor masks as Delta variant rages; Santa Cruz stands pat

Officials in a large swath of the Bay Area announce residents will again need to wear masks in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status. Neighboring Santa Clara and San Mateo are among the counties reinstituting the mandate, but Santa Cruz County is sticking to recommending, not requiring, masks indoors.

Officials in a large swath of the San Francisco Bay Area — though not Santa Cruz County — announced Monday that residents will again need to wear masks in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status amid a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The move comes several weeks after Los Angeles County became one of the first in the nation to return to an indoor mask mandate, and Monday’s move greatly expands the number of people in California covered by such rules.

Santa Cruz County has not changed its guidance, county spokesman Jason Hoppin told Lookout’s Neil Strebig, so masks remain recommended — but not required — in public indoor spaces and crowded outdoor spaces.

Health officers from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties and the city of Berkeley made the joint announcement Monday afternoon.

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The order will go into effect on Tuesday at midnight and officials said they intended it to be temporary, although they did not provide a timeline. They also said they hoped requiring masks would preempt the need for more drastic restrictions such as closures of public spaces and businesses.

“The goal of these orders is to avoid disrupting our businesses’ continued operations and residents’ everyday activities,” Dr. Lisa Santora, deputy health officer for Marin County, said at a news conference.

Restaurants and bars will remain open, but patrons inside must wear masks when not eating or drinking, the health officers said.

On July 17, Los Angeles County started requiring all residents, regardless of vaccination status, to again wear masks in indoor public spaces as case counts ticked upward. Some local governments and business owners are going a step further with more stringent rules such as requiring people to show proof of vaccination before being allowed to enter a place.

While Los Angeles County officials are hoping the mask rules will slow the new surge, it will take time to know if the measure is effective.

The current surge in cases is hitting those who are unvaccinated hard. People who are vaccinated are protected strongly against contracting the virus and, if they do, have less serious illnesses.

“The tragic reality is that almost every single person hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 is unvaccinated and these hospitalizations and deaths are, for the most part, preventable,” Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director, said in a statement.

According to data compiled by The Times, 76.7% of San Francisco County residents have received at least one dose and 70.5% are fully vaccinated — well above the 61.5% of Californians that have received at least one dose. Meanwhile, 61.9% of L.A. County residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 54.2% are fully vaccinated, according to Times data.

Last week, California urged everyone — even those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — to wear masks indoors while in public, joining a renewed national push to increase protection amid an ongoing spike in cases. But the ultimate goal is to persuade those who have not been vaccinated to get their shots, which experts say is vital to reversing the surge.

From July 18-24, providers throughout the state administered an average of just more than 64,000 vaccines a day — about 3,100 more daily doses than the week before.

An increasing number of institutions are requiring proof of vaccination in hopes of protecting both workers and the public.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.