Bay Area health officials recommend wearing masks indoors; region has highest infection rate in California

Twelve Bay Area health officials on Friday recommended that people wear masks indoors amid a new spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations.

The Bay Area now has California’s highest COVID infection rates, fueled by omicron subvariants, according to a joint press release.

Although not mandatory, masking is strongly recommended by the California Department of Public Health for most public internal configurations.

San Francisco is reporting that more than 60 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, the biggest increase in the Bay Area. Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at UCSF, said it’s a manageable caseload for hospitals.

“Right now, there’s so much immunity that we’re seeing cases, but they’re mostly mild and essentially our hospitalizations are still low,” Gandhi said.

Bay Area health officials said that wearing high quality masks such as N95, KN95 or comfortable surgical masks indoors is a wise choice that will help people protect their health.

“If you’ve chosen not to wear a mask in closed public places recently, now is a good time to start over,” said Santa Clara County Deputy Health Officer Dr. George Han, in a statement. “Highly contagious subvariants are spreading here. If you add layers of protection like a high-quality mask, it reduces the risk to you and the chance of infecting others.”

By recommending rather than requiring masks, health officials are letting each person determine their own risk. Some already are when it comes to dining out.

At Piperade, a French Basque restaurant on Battery Street in San Francisco, Gerald Hirigoyen, the owner, said more people are choosing to dine al fresco in recent weeks and thinks the rise in COVID-19 cases may be affecting his choice.

Fortunately, his fully vaccinated team has remained healthy during this recent surge in cases. Masks are optional, depending on employee preference.

“So far it’s [COVID-19 cases surging] It still doesn’t translate to business,” Hirigoyen said. “It’s a day to day, we’ll have to see what’s going on.”

Health officials also said people should be vaccinated. In San Francisco, for example, 84% of eligible residents are vaccinated.

The statement was sent by Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties, in addition to the City of Berkeley.

the sad milestone of 1 million deaths from COVID in the United States underscores the need for ongoing surveillance against the virus.

The joint statement by health officials also encouraged the public to ask their doctors about antiviral drugs, such as Paxlovid, for people at higher risk of serious illness. It’s an option for some that can help shorten the course of symptoms if they test positive.

MORE: Message from Dr. Sara Cody: Keep your mask handy, wear it indoors in crowded spaces as the virus once again breaks out

Rudi Miller, who graduated from Berkeley Law School on Friday, was grateful that a recent spike in COVID-19 infections among his classmates last month largely dissipated in time for graduation.

“I think the school staff handled it really well, and the numbers dropped significantly when graduation came around,” Miller said.

She plans to move to San Francisco soon and also plans to wear a mask most of the time.

“I feel comfortable continuing to mask,” Miller said, “because I think it’s the best way to fight COVID.”

Emma Goss of KTVU contributed to this report.

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