Mask mandates are officially back in San Francisco.
With limited exceptions, anyone in an indoor establishment will be required to wear a face covering regardless of vaccination status, according to a health order issued by eight Bay Area jurisdictions on Monday.
The order goes into effect on Tuesday, Aug. 3, and applies to all indoor public spaces in the counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma, as well as the city of Berkeley.
“Across the Bay Area region, we are seeing COVID cases surging, and hospitalizations are on a steep rise again especially among the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, public health officer for Contra Costa county, at a press conference on Monday.
Officials for each Bay Area county reported that the vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people, and described the masking order as a preventative measure to avoid stricter restrictions on activities.
The mask mandate wasn’t a surprise, and follows a recommendation to mask up indoors that was already in place in San Francisco and elsewhere. Indoor dining will still be permitted under the masking order, though patrons will be asked to wear a mask if not actively eating or drinking.
Dr. Naveena Bobba, San Francisco’s Deputy Director of Health, said vaccinated people make up a very small fraction of hospitalizations in San Francisco. Vaccinated people who wound up in the hospital tended to be elderly and at high risk, Bay Area officials said.
“Vaccinated people are still protected against the most severe outcomes; nonetheless, there is evidence that vaccinated people can still spread the virus to others,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, health officer for Sonoma county.
The Delta variant, which is believed to be about 60% more transmissible than the COVID-19 strain that drove last year’s fall and winter surges, now accounts for the majority of new cases in the Bay Area and the U.S.
In San Francisco, 76% of all residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The remaining 24% of the population includes children under 12, and others who are either unable to receive a vaccine or have opted not to.
San Francisco health officials have emphasized consistently that vaccinations are critical to stamping out any further surge in cases.
Last week, Mayor London Breed said that her office is working with the City Attorney to devise a potential broader vaccine mandate beyond the city’s own workforce of roughly 37,000 employees. Breed did not elaborate on who that mandate could apply to, but said that “as soon as we have the details of what we are able to do, we will do them.”
Bobba said on Monday that the city isn’t planning any specific enforcement measures of the masking mandate, but praised the judgment and caution shown by most residents throughout the pandemic.
“One of the things we know about the Bay Area [is that residents] tend to follow the science and data,” Bobba said.
Farnitano described the masking mandate as a temporary measure, and said that health officials are closely watching hospitalization rates in the hopes of avoiding a shortage in available beds that befell many cities across the U.S. last year.
He said that if hospitalizations drop to the low levels last observed in mid-June, counties may reevaluate masking mandates.
“We know that vaccinated individuals, while they can get infected, most cases are mild or even asymptomatic. It’s the hospitalizations we’re really worried about,” Farnitano said. “Even if you survive a COVID hospitalization, I wouldn't wish a hospitalization on anyone. It's a terrible experience.”