San Mateo County is now recommending that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors. The joint announcement with eight other Bay Area jurisdictions came on Friday in response to an uptick in COVID-19 cases due to the more transmissible Delta variant.
While COVID-19 vaccinations have proven effective against the variant, the new recommendation advises all residents to mask up indoors to protect those who remain unvaccinated.
“The epidemic is spreading faster in communities because the virus is more contagious,” Louise Rogers, chief of San Mateo County Health, wrote in a press release. “The good news is that the vaccines are effective against the Delta variant.”
San Mateo County has seen a notable increase in cases, up from a dozen cases per day to around 30 cases per day. Health Deputy Chief Srija Srinivasan said hospitalizations and deaths remain low. The Delta variant now makes up the majority of new cases across the county, state and nation.
Although masking can be effective to prevent the spread of the disease, Srinivasan and other local health leaders said vaccines are the most reliably effective way to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19. Deputy Health Officer Curtis Chan said at a recent county Board of Supervisors meeting that 95 percent of hospitalizations and deaths in the Bay Area have been among unvaccinated residents. That’s why their biggest concern is among residents who aren’t yet vaccinated and closing the vaccination gap in the most at-risk communities.
The overall vaccination rate in the county sits at 89.3 percent of people 16 years and older, as compared to 77.3 percent in communities that are the most vulnerable to the spread of the disease.
Chan said on Tuesday that County Health is focused on creating consistent and reliable neighborhood vaccination sites that are well-advertised for residents who are less eager to get vaccinated. According to Srinivasan, some residents are still worried that their personal information, including their immigration status, might be compromised if they get the vaccine — even though personal medical information is confidential and highly protected.
Friday's announcement asks people to mask up when indoors in public settings. It is not a requirement, however. According to the county’s press release, Bay Area Health Officers will revisit the recommendation in the coming weeks in response to new data.