Bay Area health officials recommend wearing masks indoors; region has highest infection rate in California

Twelve Bay Area health officials recommended Friday that people wear masks indoors amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The Bay Area now has the highest COVID infection rates in California driven by omicron subvariants, according to a joint news release.

Although not required, The California Department of Public Health strongly recommends masking. for most public indoor environments.

San Francisco is reporting more than 60 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, the largest increase in the Bay Area. Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at UCSF, said that’s a manageable caseload for hospitals.

“At this point, there is so much immunity that we are seeing cases, but they are mostly mild and essentially our hospitalizations are still low,” Gandhi said.

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

“If you have chosen not to wear a mask in closed public places recently, now is a great time to start over,” Santa Clara County Deputy Health Director Dr. George Han said in a statement. “Highly contagious subvariants are spreading here. By adding layers of protection like a high-quality mask, you reduce the risk to yourself and the chance of infecting others.”

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

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

Fortunately, their fully vaccinated staff have remained healthy during this recent spike in cases. Masks are optional, based on employee preferences.

“Until now [COVID-19 cases surging] it doesn’t translate into the business yet,” Hirigoyen said. “It’s a day to day, we’re going to have to see what’s happening.”

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

The notice 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 somber milestone 1 million COVID deaths in the United States underscores the need for continued vigilance against the virus.

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

PLUS: Message from Dr. Sara Cody: Keep your mask handy, wear it indoors in crowded spaces as the virus resurfaces

Rudi Miller, who graduated from Berkeley Law School on Friday, was thankful that a recent spike in COVID-19 infections among his classmates last month had largely dissipated in time for graduation.

“I think school officials handled it very well, and the numbers dropped significantly when it came time for graduation,” Miller said.

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

“I feel comfortable if I’m still wearing a mask,” Miller said, “because I think that’s the best way to fight COVID.”

KTVU’s Emma Goss contributed to this report.

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