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COVID-19 uptick prompts health officials to advise stepped-up precautions

COVID-19 uptick prompts health officials to advise return to masking
COVID-19 uptick prompts health officials to advise return to masking 02:26

SANTA CLARA (KPIX) -- Bay Area health officers say COVID-19 safety precautions are essential as cases rise across the region and communities start to encourage stronger responses to high infection rates in order to stop the spread of the virus.

"I'm more concerned for people who are at risk or older or have compromised immune systems," said Nicholas Wertheim, a student at Santa Clara University. "If you feel sick, get tested, isolate, just try not to be around other people."

The university announced Thursday it will strongly urge everyone on campus to wear masks indoors during a period of high transmission. For the next two weeks, all who live in on-campus housing will need to get a weekly test.

"We have KN95s for the students, which are recommend for people to use in classrooms," said Collette Ivanov, a student helping others pick up masks and receive a COVID test. "Our goal is just to keep everyone safe, especially the communities (that) are compromised."

The Bay Area has the highest infection rates in California. Twelve public health officers put out a message Friday calling for a return to important safety measures. In addition to masking indoors when in a public setting, they remind residents to seek well-ventilated areas and keep large gatherings outside in the coming weeks.

"With people kind of getting comfortable or kind of getting fatigued with COVID, you can totally see why it's happening," said Lawton Young, a student at Santa Clara University.

Some of the health officers involved in the decision to make this recommendation said that people are simply more likely to come across another person who is infected when indoors than they were last month.

"It's time to take action, it's time to take action across the Bay Area and we think this is important step for our communities to take," said Marin County public health officer Dr. Matt Willis. "It's possible to walk out of a grocery store or someplace else with an infection you didn't have when you walked in and that's just the biology of this unfortunately."

Willis says he has looked closely at the difference in cases and hospitalizations with this current increase and sees signs that indicate the effects of this variant are less severe. 

"It's important to celebrate but celebrate as safe as possible," said Dr. Curtis Chan, the deputy health officer for San Mateo County.

Chan is also concerned about the current level of testing happening in his community and fears the spread of the virus is much larger than currently reported. He says the current levels match what the county saw last winter during the first omicron surge.

"The best attitude toward masks at the moment is to see them as a useful tool for your own protection or health," said Dr. Jorge Salinas, a hospital epidemiologist at Stanford University.

Salinas knows there is fatigue with masking more than two years into the pandemic but he hopes people do not see it as a chore but a part of their daily routine. The current rise in cases in the Bay Area comes from the B.A.2 subvariant of omicron. He says B.A.4 and B.A.5 have already shown rapid growth in other countries so communities in the U.S. including Northern California will need to be prepared for another wave coming this summer or later in the year.

Local health officials also want to remind those who are likely to get very sick from COVID to consider medications available that can reduce your chances of severe illness and death if you test positive.

"Just be mindful of other people's health other than your own," Wertheim said.

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