California expands mask regulations amid record COVID cases

The state’s top health official said Wednesday that COVID-19 infections hit a new record due to the rapidly spreading omicron variant.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr Mark Ghaly said the face covering mandate would be extended by a month to February 15 and reassessed thereafter.

“Omicron is here, and it is here, and we cannot give up the tools we used to achieve collective success that have allowed California to be one of the safest states in the world,” said Ghaly. epidemic”.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 22: California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly speaks during a news conference at the Native American Medical Center in Oakland, California, on Wednesday, May 22. December 2021. (Jane Tyska / Bay Area News Corporation)

California’s seven-day average of new daily cases has nearly doubled since Friday to 54,695, a new record high. Citing the surge, organizers of the Grammy Awards, scheduled to take place at Arena in Los Angeles later this month, postponed the event to Wednesday, but Ghaly said the Super Bowl is still scheduled. was played in Los Angeles in February. 13.

Health officials are working with the National Football League, he said, “to make sure everyone can enjoy this important event” while ensuring measures are in place to avoid spreading the virus. withdraw.

COVID-19 infections are also spreading like wildfire across the country, averaging nearly 550,000 new infections per day, of which omicrons now account for about 95 percent of cases, according to the CDC.

“We ask people to follow these four steps: Get vaccinated and boosted if you are eligible, wear a mask, stay home when you are sick, and get tested if you have symptoms or are seeking treatment. greater peace of mind. before you gather with others,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.

In the first year of the pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a statewide requirement for everyone to wear face coverings in indoor public settings by June 2020 and not lift it. until June 15, 2021. That’s a month after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinations don’t require face coverings in most indoor public settings, except for public facilities, schools, shelters, prisons and prisons and health care facilities.

Several Bay Area counties in October reinstated the request, citing increased cases and concerns about outbreaks worsening over the winter, including breakout cases due to immunity to the vaccine. -xin and previous infections weakened.

California officials last month reinstated the statewide mask-wearing requirement for all people under age 2 regardless of immunization status in all indoor public settings. The claim begins December 15 and will run through January 15 before renewing on Wednesday.

But extending the requirement to wear face masks is the only new restriction that Ghaly says is being put in place despite a fearsome rise in COVID cases and hospital admissions that have strained the healthcare system. state and caused many schools to face massive staff shortages and sick students absent from school. .

Ghaly said the state government is not calling for new lockdowns, school closures or other restrictions on business or gatherings, as happened last winter in terms of the number of deadly COVID-19 cases. people.

Despite the alarming increase in cases, California is in many ways much better off than it was a year ago, when a new vaccine hit the market and very few people in the state other than health care workers and nursing home residents were injected.

Currently, two-thirds of all Californians and more than 70% of those 5 years of age and older who are eligible for vaccinations are fully vaccinated, and one-third of the state’s residents have received a booster shot, according to the CDC. CDC.

And despite shortages and long waits in many areas, Ghaly said viral testing – whether a lab-made high-precision PCR molecular test or an at-home antigen test – is still widely available.

“We’re really excited to have an expanded toolkit now, and we’re not discussing business closures or further restrictions on businesses or other sectors of our economy. me,” said Ghaly.

Ghaly said the state will use a single metric to determine whether to lift the mask order on February 15, but the decision will be based on an assessment of case rates, hospital admissions, and more. and other factors affecting health care delivery.

And Ghaly said that while the state encourages the use of tight-fitting N95-type respirators in lieu of cloth masks, it will not require anyone, including students, to attend school. Ghaly said there were concerns about whether all families would have access to those more expensive masks.

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA – June 13: COVID-19 signs at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California, on Tuesday, June 13, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer / Bay Area News Group)

The CDC this week shortened the booster vaccine eligibility period for people who’ve had the Pfizer vaccine from six to five months, and on Wednesday recommended a third shot for adolescents under 12 years of age, after being Review and FDA approval by their vaccine advisory board.

Health experts nationwide and some CDC advisory board members have opposed the use of juvenile boosters, who have questioned whether the modest benefits for an age group are unlikely to be likely. Is the potential for severe COVID-19 worth the risk and distraction from immunizing people who haven’t been vaccinated. photos. But council members said children would benefit from fewer absences from school if they fell ill. California expands mask regulations amid record COVID cases

John Verrall

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