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Sonoma County, other Bay Area counties recommend return to COVID-19 masking indoors for everyone

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Sonoma County on Friday joined six other Bay Area counties in recommending a return to wearing masks indoors in response to a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The recommendation, issued by the county public health division, applies to all residents, regardless of vaccination status.

The move comes a day after Los Angeles County ordered the use of masks indoors amid a similar rise in COVID-19 cases there. Bay Area jurisdictions now recommending the indoor use of a mask include Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and the city of Berkeley.

Local health officials on Friday reported 71 positive cases in the past 24 hours, along with a daily transmission rate of 6.4 new cases per 100,000 residents. Officials also reported another COVID-19 death Friday, the eighth in the first two weeks of July.

Officials said an unvaccinated man under the age of 50 with underlying health conditions died in a local hospital on July 12. The death brings the total pandemic toll for Sonoma County to 327.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said the highly transmissible delta mutation of the coronavirus is likely behind the recent surge in cases and hospitalizations, and that local residents should do everything they can to protect themselves. Mase called the masking recommendation a first step in changing the current trajectory of the pandemic and said it remains to be seen whether a mandated order is necessary.

“We'd like to see how people comply with this ‘high’ recommendation,” she said. “I think over the next couple of weeks, we're going to see if people take that recommendation seriously or not. And we'll have a better idea of where the (COVID-19) numbers are going.”

County health officials said that in June, the delta variant comprised 43% of all COVID-19 infections genetically sequenced by state labs. Meanwhile, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the mutation is now responsible for 58% of new infections nationwide.

Officials said Friday’s recommendation is aimed at ensuring “easy verification that all unvaccinated people are masked in those settings and as an extra precautionary measure for all,” according to a county statement released Friday afternoon.

Indoor settings include grocery or retail stores, theaters and family entertainment centers. Officials encouraged businesses to adopt universal masking requirements for customers entering indoor areas to provide better protection to their employees and customers.

Officials said workplaces must comply with Cal/OSHA requirements and encouraged fully vaccinated employees to wear masks indoors if employers have not confirmed the vaccination status of their co-workers.

At Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, owner Josh Silvers said he won’t force his staff to wear a mask. Silvers said he follows all public health guidelines and sanitation protocols; there is no masking requirement at the restaurant for those who are vaccinated.

But he said he’s not going to police those who aren’t vaccinated and come into the restaurant without a mask.

“You’re supposed to self-regulate, you’re supposed to be a responsible member of the community at this point,” he said. “I’ve done my due diligence. I’ve been vaccinated, my wife and my son have been vaccinated.”

Across the street, at Daredevils & Queens Salon, owner Brauley McNulty said she needs time to consider the recommendation. McNulty said she also adheres to the CDC’s guidelines, which allow vaccinated individuals to forgo wearing a mask if they choose to.

“I think that I need to digest it a little bit,” she said. “We do still have some people that are wearing masks either because of a pregnancy or health issue. … We all want to stay as healthy as we can.”

Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley infectious disease expert, called the mask recommendation a good step toward reining in virus transmission. He said case rates in the Bay Area are not as severe as they are in Los Angeles, where 3.2 million eligible residents have yet to be vaccinated.

“Now is the time to be much more cautious,” he said. “There are too many people behaving as if the pandemic is over and too many people unvaccinated. I’m glad public health has chimed in.”

Swartzberg said if coronavirus transmission and hospitalization rates continue to climb, the Bay Area masking recommendation should become an order, as it now is in Los Angeles.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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