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COVID: Bay Area Health Officials Urge All Residents To Voluntarily Wear Masks Indoors

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- With cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant on a rapid rise, a coalition of Bay Area county health officials urged local vaccinated residents to once again wear masks indoors in public places.

The measure, for now, is voluntary and follows in the wake of Los Angeles County requiring its residents to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

The plea was issued Friday locally by health officials in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties and the city of Berkeley.

"We are asking our residents to collectively come together again in this effort to stem the rising cases until we can assess how our hospital capacity will be impacted," said San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip.

"The Delta variant is spreading quickly, and everyone should take action to protect themselves and others against this potentially deadly virus," Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss added.

In June, the Delta variants comprised 43 percent of all confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Delta variants are now responsible for 58 percent of new infections across the country.

"Out of an abundance of caution, people are recommended to wear masks indoors in settings like grocery or retail stores, theaters and family entertainment centers, even if they are fully vaccinated as an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents," officials said in the joint statement.

"Businesses are urged to adopt universal masking requirements for customers entering indoor areas of their businesses to provide better protection to their employees and customers," the statement continued.

In San Jose, Sushi Confidential owner Randy Musterer said he's not sure yet what he'll require of his customers or employees after Friday's announcement.

"It's unfortunate that we're possibly going to fall back again," Musterer said. "We were hoping that we were coming out of the pandemic, especially here in the Bay Area -- approaching herd immunity."

Bay Area Health Officers will revisit this recommendation in the coming weeks as they continue to monitor transmission rates, hospitalizations, deaths and increasing vaccination rates throughout the region.

Health leaders in Los Angeles County on Thursday announced an indoor mask mandate that goes into effect Saturday at 11:59 p.m.

In San Francisco, cases are rising among the unvaccinated. Black and Latino people are getting shots at a lower rate than others and Mayor London Breed urged them to get the vaccine.

She said Thursday that every person hospitalized with COVID-19 at San Francisco General Hospital is unvaccinated and most are African American.

San Francisco supervisor Shamann Walton said the highest number of cases are in the Bayview District, a largely Black neighborhood, "because we are not doing everything we can to protect each other. This is a cry to my community ... We need you to get vaccinated."

San Francisco has one of the highest overall vaccination rates in the nation's most populated state. At least 83% of residents 12 and older have received at least one dose.

Word that Bay Area health officials are once again asking people to put on their masks while indoors regardless of their vaccination status comes as a disappointment to many.

A Bay Area ER nurse who wanted to remain anonymous told KPIX 5's Juliette Goodrich, "There is a sense of frustration among all of us as we have to wear those horrible N95s again that hurt to wear all day. In addition we are starting to hospitalize more children who aren't even eligible for the vaccine."

"I feel like we're just now getting back to normal and asking the people who are vaccinated to put their masks on once again, I feel, is not fair," said Ashtyn Civelli of Campbell.

Santa Clara County has one of the highest vaccination rates of any large county in the nation, with 76 percent now fully vaccinated. Even there, the virus and its variants are spreading.

"Unfortunately, even though we have very high rates of vaccination and the excellent protection that affords, we are still seeing our case rates rise," said assistant health officer Dr. Sarah Rudman.

Rudman said cases are still well below the winter surge but have tripled in recent weeks.

"Especially among the unvaccinated population and those who are not yet eligible, including our younger population," she said.

Rudman said the recommendation is a way to ensure that unvaccinated people are wearing their masks.

Some said the recent spike could have been avoided.

"People who aren't vaccinated can, like, slip by and they think it's OK not to wear a mask anywhere," said Annie Estrade.

Angelo Jimenez said that, despite the state lifting the mask mandate last month, he continued to wear one.

"I wear a mask everywhere I go," said Jimenez. "I don't want to risk it. I'm not going to risk it for my family, friends, you know? Better to be safe than sorry."

But Michael Richard Ryan, who is vaccinated, said he feels safe enough to not wear a mask indoors despite the recommendation.

"If things started getting sticky, I'll say, 'Yeah, OK, I'll jump in,'" Ryan said. "If I go inside I'll have it in my back pocket, pull it out and put it on."

He said what he's most "irritated" about is those who choose not to get vaccinated.

"I sit down with somebody and they tell me they're not vaccinated and 'I don't want to be a sheep and follow everybody,'" Ryan said. "That's just goofy. Get vaccinated! Get real. 600,000 people have died, is that about right that you've heard too? 600,000 people."

One man who said he is not vaccinated, said he probably would not wear a mask indoors unless the business made it mandatory.

"I think once again it will be back to 'my body, my choice.' I don't think we should be guilting anybody," said John Besmer.

KPIX 5's Maria Medina contributed to this report

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