New mask guidance is here: What to know in San Francisco Bay Area

Confused? Here’s what to know.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully vaccinated individuals can generally forgo masks, public health departments in seven Bay Area counties and one city issued an advisory Friday recommending that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public space. 

Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma and the city of Berkeley issued a joint statement saying that out of an abundance of caution, they are recommending masks indoors in settings like grocery or retail stores, theaters and family entertainment centers — even if individuals are fully vaccinated — as an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents.

The advisory is a recommendation, not a requirement, and went into effect immediately.

“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 only two Bay Area counties to not issue the joint statement were Napa and Solano counties.

Businesses in the seven counties and Berkeley are also being urged to adopt universal masking requirements for customers entering indoor business areas to provide better protection to their employees and customers.

This news comes after Sacramento and Yolo counties issued similar voluntary rules earlier this week. Los Angeles County reinstituted a mandatory mask requirement for public indoor spaces at midnight on Saturday. 

The delta variant of the coronavirus accounted for 43% of all COVID-19 specimens sequenced in California in June, according to the statement. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals the delta variant is responsible for 58% of new infections across the country. 

Preliminary research shows the vaccines are effective in protecting against the delta variant. 

Marin County Health Director Dr. Matt Willis explained in a phone call on Friday that a mask recommendation helps prevent spread because breakthrough cases — where vaccinated individuals — are still occurring. While vaccinated people who are infected are most often asymptomatic and have mild cases, they can still pass the virus to unvaccinated people, who can develop severe illness. 

“Breakthroughs are more common than initially thought for the delta variant,” Willis said. 

Willis noted that one in three new cases in Marin County are breakthrough infections where a fully vaccinated individual tests positive.

“We’re not seeing corresponding surges in hospitalizations or deaths,” Willis said. “While we are seeing an increase in the proportion of our cases that are breakthrough cases, the protection of the vaccine is clear in preventing severe disease. That’s what we’re most interested in in the first place.”

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