California health officials are recommending all residents wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
The announcement comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance asking people to wear masks indoors in regions with “high or substantial” transmission rates. More than 90% of Californians live in counties meeting that threshold.
“The Delta variant has caused a sharp increase in hospitalizations and case rates across the state," California Public Health DIrector Dr. Tomás J. Aragón wrote in a statement. "We are recommending masking in indoor public places to slow the spread while we continue efforts to get more Californians vaccinated."
The daily average of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past week. Though lower than the peaks the state experienced this past winter, health officials are concerned that with slowing vaccination rates, the virus could continue to spread throughout the state.
California had dropped its mask requirement June 15 when the state reopened to follow previous CDC guidance.
Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Medical Center, said that while guidelines have been changing, they are based on new evidence on how the virus is evolving.
"Now we've got the delta variant, which is twice as infectious as previous strains," Blumberg told Insight host Vicki Gonzalez Wednesday. "And so really, if we want to tamp down this latest surge of infections, it just makes sense for everybody to wear a mask."
Blumberg said vaccines, which decrease the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others by around 90%, will be key in slowing the delta variant. But since vaccinated people still have a chance of catching and spreading the virus, masking during the latest surge makes sense.
"Vaccine is the first line of defense and masking is really the second line," he said. "So the combination of the two of them is like having airbags in your car and then also wearing a seatbelt. So it really ensures the safest environment possible."
So far, 53% of Californians are fully vaccinated and nearly 61% are at least partially vaccinated, though immunization rates can vary greatly by location.
California health officials also announced this week that state employees and health care workers would be required to show proof of vaccination or be tested at least weekly. The California State University system also announced it would require vaccines for students, faculty and staff in the fall, mirroring the University of California system.
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