Update 11:57 a.m. July 20, 2021:
Health officials throughout the Bay Area are urging everyone – regardless of vaccination status – to wear a mask while indoors in public places.
The guidance comes as COVID-19 cases increase locally and the virulent delta variant continues to spread. Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Sonoma counties as well as the city of Berkeley issued the joint recommendation Friday.
In an interview with the Town Crier Monday, El Camino Health chief nursing officer Cheryl Reinking said she believes the recommendation makes sense from a public health perspective, in light of the delta variant.
“We do know that the delta variant is highly transmissible and deadly,” Reinking said. “While we’ve gotten used to this notion of not wearing masks, it is a simple and an easy solution to reduce transmission.”
During the month of June, delta variants made up 43% of all specimens sequenced in the state, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now believe they are responsible for 58% of new infections across the country, according to a press release from Santa Clara County.
Although health officials are recommending indoor masking, it is not currently a requirement in the Bay Area. Down in Southern California, Los Angeles County recently reinstituted an indoor mask mandate.
The decision to recommend everyone wear a mask indoors was made “out of an abundance of caution,” according to Santa Clara County’s release, because although fully vaccinated people are “well-protected from infections and serious illness” due to the delta variant, having everyone wear a mask indoors creates “an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents.”
In Santa Clara County, 82.8% of residents ages 12 and up have had at least one vaccine dose, and 76.6% have completed vaccination. Although Reinking said that’s one of the highest rates in the county, she added that roughly 18% remain unvaccinated, plus those under 12 who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated.
Even among the vaccinated, there can still be “breakthrough” cases where a fully vaccinated person gets COVID-19. If they have no or minimal symptoms, they may unknowingly transmit the infection to an unvaccinated person, Reinking said.
“In light of the fact that some people cannot be vaccinated, including the children in our community, we have to continue to be vigilant,” she said.
Reinking and county health officials said getting people vaccinated is critical to combating the pandemic. Vaccines are free and widely available to those ages 12 and up, with information on local vaccination sites available at sccfreevax.org.
Although Reinking said she knows it’s difficult for the community to keep taking precautions after so much time has passed, she stressed that the delta variant makes it necessary.
“This variant, it’s just really transmissible – the most transmissible that we’ve seen,” she said. “We just need to continue to be cautious and take every effort to maintain our vigilance.”