SAN FRANCISCO –
California’s new mask mandate comes amid growing concerns that a winter surge in COVID-19 cases could weigh on hospitals again.
Coronavirus infections are increasing rapidly in the state, although some officials continue to hope that another winter surge in cases will be less severe than the devastating surge a year ago that overwhelmed many hospitals.
Experts hope that the new mask requirement for public interiors will help keep the number of cases within limits.
Concerns in the hospital
With the arrival of the latest variants of coronavirus, data suggests that people who get seriously ill do so faster, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Secretary of Health and Personnel. “So the impact on hospitals could be faster,” he said.
With state officials not planning on re-issuing home stay orders this winter, hospitals will face challenges they didn’t have last year, Ghaly said.
Ghaly said hospital capacity remains a challenge, 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 getting stronger than usual for this time of year, and staff are weary from battling the nearly two-year-old historic pandemic. There is still a risk of catching up in the health sector, which was postponed during the pandemic.
Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, an assistant health officer for Orange County, said the county must prepare for the possibility of a COVID-19 surge, even without considering the newly emerged Omicron variant of the virus.
“Unfortunately, yes, our hospitals have to rethink their replenishment plans with the staffing shortages they have experienced in order to prepare for a very, very busy winter,” said Chinsio-Kwong on Friday.
In Los Angeles County, rising vaccination rates have helped ease the burden on hospitals; During last year’s spikes, 15-20% of coronavirus cases resulted in hospitalizations, but this summer’s delta spike, around 5-6% of cases resulted in hospitalizations.
That “really reflects the power of these vaccines,” said Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health, recently.
“But we are concerned about stress on the hospital supply system. We have a really persistent staff shortage in many of our hospitals, ”Ferrer said.
“So I don’t expect we’ll be hit anywhere near as hard as last winter, but it’s all relative,” said Ferrer. “Our job is to really do our best to make sure people know what they can do to avoid getting serious COVID-related illness.”
California COVID-19 cases have increased nearly 50% in the past 2½ weeks, and hospital admissions for the virus have increased nearly 15%. County health officials across the state said they suspect these numbers may reflect the start of a winter jump in cases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates California as the country with a high transmission rate of the coronavirus, the worst on the federal agency’s four-point scale.
California is approaching a statewide COVID-19 death toll of 75,000. The national death toll is approaching 800,000.
How masks fit
Evidence shows that masks help reduce transmission of the virus, Ghaly said. The coronavirus is transmitted through the air and can spread from infected people, even if they are asymptomatic.
“Even a 10% increase in indoor masking can significantly reduce enclosure transmission,” said Ghaly. “Wearing a mask will be one of the most important things that will help us get through this period of uncertainty.”
California’s nationwide public indoor mask mandate goes into effect Wednesday.
The arrangement will affect roughly half the state’s population, including San Diego and Orange counties, the Inland Empire, and parts of the Central Valley and rural northern California. The order is currently scheduled to last a month and expire on January 15th.
A number of California counties – including Los Angeles, Ventura, and Sacramento – and most of the San Francisco Bay Area already have their own indoor mask mandates that went live in the summer and have no end dates.