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Sonoma health officer to require masks for health workers from Nov. 2023 – Apr. 2024

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SANTA ROSA – Health care workers in Sonoma County will be required to wear masks in patient care areas from November through April, under a new order issued by the county's health officer.

Dr. Karen Smith issued the order Tuesday amid concerns of increased transmission of respiratory viruses, such as flu and COVID-19, between late fall and early spring.

"The widespread availability of COVID-19 testing and treatment, the high level of community vaccination in the County, and the lower death rate seen in the most recent surges of COVID-19, Have diminished the necessity for year-round mandatory orders related to masking in multiple high-risk settings. However, the risk to vulnerable patients of COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory viruses in Health Care Settings, including skilled nursing facilities, remains significant," a portion of the order read.

Related: Contra Costa County issues new mask order for health care workers in 'high-risk' facilities

Smith said in a statement Tuesday, "Patients and residents in our health care and congregate facilities, especially young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions, are at greater risk for respiratory virus-related hospitalizations and death. Workers in direct care, health care, and congregate facilities are at risk for respiratory illness and can transmit the viruses to their clients, patients, and coworkers."

The order applies to hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, infusion centers, dialysis clinics, skilled nursing facilities, parts of long-term care facilities and other facilities where patient care is provided indoors.

Workers, regardless of vaccination status, would be required to wear surgical masks or a KN95, KF94 or N95 respirator. Cloth masks or face coverings such as scarves, ski masks or balaclavas do not qualify as face masks.

A spokesperson with the county confirmed to KPIX that the order does not apply to patients or visitors to healthcare facilities.

Exceptions apply to workers who have a diagnosed medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents the individual from wearing a mask. Persons who are hearing impaired or commutating with someone who is hearing impaired are also exempt, along with situations where wearing a mask would create a risk related to work, as determined by workplace safety guidelines.

Officials said the order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on November 1, 2023 and remains in effect through April 30, 2024. The health officer may adjust the dates based on respiratory virus surveillance data.

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