Bay Area health officials recommend masking indoors; region has the highest infection rate in California

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

The Bay Area now has the highest COVID infection rates in California, fueled by ommicron subvariants, according to a joint press release.

Although not required, masking is highly recommended by the California Department of Public Health for most public indoor environments.

San Francisco reports that more than 60 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19, the largest increase in the Bay Area. dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at UCSF, said it is 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 still remain low,” Gandhi said.

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

“If you’ve chosen not to wear a mask in indoor public places lately, now is a good time to start over,” said Santa Clara County Deputy Health Officer Dr. George Han, in a statement. “There are highly contagious sub-variants spreading here. Adding layers of protection, such as a high-quality mask, reduces the risk to you and the chance of infecting others.”

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

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

Fortunately, his fully vaccinated staff has remained healthy during this recent spate of cases. Masks are optional, depending on worker preference.

“So far it is” [COVID-19 cases surging] doesn’t translate to the business yet,” Hirigoyen said. “It’s day to day, we’ll have to see what happens.”

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

The advisory was sent by Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties, as well as the city of Berkeley.

The grim milestone of 1 million deaths from COVID in the United States underlines the need for continued vigilance against the virus.

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

LAKE: The message from Dr. Sara Cody: keep your mask handy, wear indoors in crowded areas as the virus is on the rise again

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

“I think the school officials handled it very well, and the numbers dropped significantly by the time graduation rolled around,” Miller said.

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

“I’m comfortable with 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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