SALINAS, Calif. (KION) It's back to masking up in California. A statewide mask mandate has returned ahead of the holidays, regardless of vaccination status.
Starting Wednesday, Californians are being told to mask up in:
- Indoor public places
- At "mega events" with more than 1,000 people in attendance. Those who don’t have proof of vaccination will still be able to attend with a negative COVID-19 test.
State health officials said the mandate was spurred by rising COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving. California saw a 47% increase in the two and a half weeks after the holiday.
"We're signaling to people that we're in a dangerous time with the Omicron coming on, and with the holidays coming on," said Dr. David Ghilarducci, Deputy Health Officer for Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. "We can't afford to go through again what we did last year. To repeat that would really be a disaster."
Workers at the Nob Hill in Salinas Wednesday were offering masks to those who walked in without one. While some listened, some didn't. And health officials in all three Central Coast counties said they're largely relying on people to listen to the warnings.
"Lots and lots of data has been accumulated over the last two years, and masks absolutely do work. Now are masks perfect by themselves? No, nor is really anything in life. We're really relying on layers of behavior and layers of other protection like vaccines to help reduce the spread," said Dr. Ghilarducci.
The state says it's up to local jurisdictions on how the mandate will be enforced — with Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary, admitting that some areas will be stronger on enforcement than others.
"We don't have a 'public health police force' and quite frankly, the police agencies really don't have the manpower or the staffing to be able to do this," said Dr. Ghilarducci. "The last thing we are interested in doing in either county is to cite somebody or to charge them with a fine or anything like that. I don't think that is productive."
However, he says there are some exceptions.
"If that situation does occur, where the intention is to create more risk, not just sort of forgetting to bring a mask one day or letting the mask slip down to your chin, but if somebody is willfully trying to expose other people, then in those situations we probably will need to act."
The state health order is set to expire on Jan. 15, 2022.
However, state health officials said the order will only go into effect for counties that don't already have a mask mandate in place. Santa Cruz County is sticking with their prior mandate that went into effect in November.
"Our indoor mask mandate applies to indoor private settings that the state’s doesn't. So this includes people's homes where you're mixing with people from outside your normal household," Dr. Ghilarducci clarified.
Ghilarducci says the new Omicron variant hasn't been detected on the Central Coast yet, but he says its four times more infectious than Delta.
"We still don't know with Omicron if it's going to make you sicker than Delta would have made you. And there's some indications that it may not be, but because it is so much more infectious, there'll be many more cases of Omicron and therefore many more cases in the hospital and unfortunately, dying from this this virus," he says.
State health officials are also advising those who travel in or out of the state to get tested for COVID within 3 to 5 days, and isolate if the test is positive.
"We have a reasonably high vaccination rate, but there still are pockets of unvaccinated people that could make a real difference in terms of overwhelming our health care system and causing unnecessary illness and death. So vaccination is the key thing. Masking is the next step," said Dr. Ghilarducci.