California’s new mask mandate comes amid growing concerns that a winter surge in COVID-19 cases could once again strain hospitals. Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, a deputy health officer for Orange County, said even without factoring in Omicron, Orange County will need to brace itself for the possibility of a COVID-19 surge. “Unfortunately, yes, our hospitals are having to relook at their surge plans with the staffing shortages that they have been experiencing to brace themselves again for a very, very busy winter,” she said Friday. It still remains possible that too many cases of COVID-19 could make it harder for heart attack patients to get a hospital bed, leaving them at greater risk of dying or suffering severe illness “because they’re not able to get the care they need as quickly as they need it.”
California is approaching a statewide COVID-19 death toll of 75,000. The national death total is nearing 800,000.
The order will affect roughly half the state’s population, including San Diego and Orange counties, the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and rural Northern California. The statewide indoor mask mandate order will last a month and will expire on Jan. 15.
At least 10 studies cited by the CDC recently have confirmed the benefit of masks, and “each analysis demonstrated that, following directives for universal masking, new infections fell significantly,” the state Department of Public Health said in a statement. “The evidence is there that masks make a difference,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary. “The coronavirus is airborne and can also spread silently from infected, asymptomatic people. Wearing a mask is going to be one of the most important things to help us get through this period of uncertainty.” He acknowledged that there may be people across the state who will not comply with an indoor mask mandate. “We hope that those are few and far between. In some places, the enforcement is going to be stronger than others.” Ghaly expressed hope that some communities will decide to follow the new rules for just the next month. The mask policy “can have a real impact on case transmission and help preserve our hospital system, and save lives.”
For parts of California, the new mask order will result in dramatic changes in day-to-day life if the rule is widely followed. Places like Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties haven’t had an indoor mask order since June 15, when the last statewide mask order ended.
Residents in areas that partially eased local mask rules will also notice a difference. San Francisco on Monday said it will no longer allow people at indoor gyms or offices to be maskless, even if everyone inside is fully vaccinated.
In places like L.A. and Ventura counties, the state’s latest rules essentially echo the existing local mask orders, and won’t result in changes.
People exempted from the state’s indoor mask requirement include those younger than 2; people with medical or mental health conditions that prevents wearing a mask, including those for whom wearing a mask could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious; and people who are hearing impaired or are communicating with someone hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is needed to communicate.