With coronavirus cases on the rise, California is ordering a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces to go into effect on Wednesday.
The order will affect approximately half the state’s population, including counties of San Diego and Orange, the Inland Empire, the Central Valley, and rural Northern California. National order-to-order for inner masks takes one month and expires on January 15th.
Los Angeles County, Ventura County, and most of the San Francisco Bay Area have their own indoor mask mandates that went live in the summer and have no end dates.
The move comes as coronavirus case rates have increased 50% in the past 2½ weeks and county health officials across the state suspect that coronavirus cases may begin a winter jump. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe California has a high rate of transmission of the coronavirus, the worst on the federal agency’s four-point scale.
California’s announcement came the same day that New York introduced its own statewide mask requirement in public indoor spaces, with the exception of environments where everyone must be vaccinated inside. Officials in the UK have also reorganized an extension of the mask requirement for indoor use.
The new mask orders are coming in as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus – which was only discovered last month – has spread rapidly around the world. Britain has recorded the first death of a person infected with the variant of Omicron.
In addition, many states elsewhere are struggling nationally with a winter COVID-19 surge to the still prevalent Delta variant. “We are seeing other states in the United States struggle with congested hospitals and high numbers of cases,” said Dr. California’s Minister of Health and Human Resources, Mark Ghaly, told reporters on Monday.
Ghaly said he was concerned that hospital capacity is still under pressure, particularly in the San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the Central Valley and the eastern Sierra and rural north. A number of hospitals across the state are busier than usual at this time of year, when staff are still exhausted from battling a nearly two-year-old historic pandemic, and there is still a lot of catching up to do with health needs that were postponed during the year earlier parts of the pandemic.
There is evidence that masks still make a difference, Ghaly said. The coronavirus is transmitted in the air and can spread silently even from infected, asymptomatic people.
“Even a 10% increase in indoor masking can significantly reduce enclosure transmission,” said Ghaly.
“This is a critical time when we have a tool that we know has worked and can work. We are proactively using this universal indoor masking tool in public settings to ensure we get through a time of joy and hope without darker worries and despair, ”said Ghaly. “The Californians have done this before. And of course we believe that we can do it again. “