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COVID Surge: 7 Bay Area Counties Issue Indoor Mask Mandate, Regardless of Vaccination Status

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Citing a rapid rise in COVID Delta variant cases, the health directors from seven San Francisco Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley on Monday ordered residents living in their jurisdictions to once again wear masks at businesses, restaurants and other indoor public settings.

The order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and covers all residents -- both vaccinated and non-vaccinated -- living in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma counties and Berkeley.

Health officials also recommend that all employers make face coverings available to individuals entering their businesses, and businesses are required to implement the indoor face-covering order.

"We know that face coverings work to prevent the circulation of the virus, and with contagious variants spreading it has become clear that mask wearing is again necessary," said Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase. "Masking and vaccinations are the most important tools we have to end the pandemic. We encourage all residents to do their part in wearing their masks to keep themselves, their families and their community safe."

Health officials said the rising number of cases and hospitalizations was forcing the new masking mandate.

"It's unfortunate that we have to do this at this point in the pandemic. None of us want to be here but the virus has changed," said Dr. George Han of Santa Clara County Public Health.

Despite the surge, they are emphasizing, the vaccine is still highly effective against serious illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a study released Friday that the delta variant spreads as easily among the vaccinated as unvaccinated. Over the last week, the Bay Area saw a 32% jump in new cases of the extremely contagious variant.

While fully vaccinated individuals remain strongly protected against severe illness, hospitalization and death from a delta variant infection, they can spread the illness.

"Because the Delta variant is transmitted alarmingly easily, including by people who are vaccinated, we need the added protection of masks back into our lives until everyone is able to be vaccinated, especially children," said Han.

The goal, the health officials said, was to slow the surge before stronger measures were needed.

"The goal is to avoid disrupting businesses and residents' everyday activities," said Dr. Scott Morrow, San Mateo County's health officer. "We want our communities to stay open while being as safe as possible."

The health officers said they would continue to monitor data, including increasing vaccination throughout the region, to determine when the order can be adjusted or lifted.

Indoor mask mandates are already in effect in Los Angeles, Yolo and Sacramento counties.

At 22nd and Irving Market, signs requiring customers to mask up, all came down in mid-June.

"Who am I to tell people what to do they follow your heart and your mind and what you think and be safe," said store manager Nick Kryjou.

"If we can get our hospitalization rates down to where they were in mid June then we can start thinking about easing off on some of these restrictions," said Dr. Chris Farnitano of Contra Costa Health Services.

Health officials say switching back to a mask-mandate is so businesses don't have to shut down again, and for schools to reopen safely.

"I think it's needed and been needed for a while," said San Francisco resident Henry Lamar.

Kenny Choi contributed to this story.

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