The requirements issued this week by officials in California’s Contra Costa, Sonoma and San Mateo counties are set to take effect Nov. 1 and continue through April 30. The mandates do not apply to patients or visitors at hospitals and other health care facilities.
Dr. Karen Smith, Sonoma County’s health officer, said in a statement that health care workers not only risk infection themselves during the respiratory virus season, they can transmit COVID-19 and other viruses to those around them.
“Patients and residents in our health care and congregate facilities, especially young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions, are at greater risk for respiratory virus-related hospitalizations and death,” Smith said.
COVID-19, influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) make up what’s been called a “tripledemic” of respiratory illnesses. Flu and RSV spread seasonally, but COVID-19 numbers started heading up weeks ago and continue to climb.
Nationwide, more than 20,500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 during the week ending Sept. 9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 7.7% increase.
In Utah, the seven-day average of people hospitalized with COVID-19 shot up more than 40% for the week ending Sept. 14, to just under 64 patients. the Utah Department of Health and Human Services reported.
Utah lawmakers ended a statewide mask mandate in 2021 and made it hard for public health officials to impose mask mandates or other restrictions. Last year, the Legislature overturned mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties during a surge of infections.
University of Utah Health officials said masking can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses during a recent virtual news conference focused on the “dramatic” increase in the health care system’s cases and hospitalizations for the virus.
Mandates weren’t mentioned, however. In June, U. Health transitioned to optional masking in most clinical locations for patients, visitors, faculty and staff, although masks are still required in some places to protect the highly immunocompromised.
“Masks remain very effective at preventing the spread of respiratory illness, whether it be COVID, influenza, RSV,” Dr. Russell Vinik, U. Health chief medical operations officer, told reporters.
“These are individual decisions that people make, in recognizing that different people are at different risk of having severe consequences,” he said. “So we certainly encourage people who are at risk of severe consequences due to underlying conditions to wear masks.”
Wearing a high quality mask, such as a KN95 or N95, Vinik said, “is going to help protect you more than a cloth mask or even a surgical mask, which is probably better at protecting the people around you and keeping you from spreading” viruses.
At Intermountain Health, the region’s largest health care provider, spokesman Jess Gomez said masks are optional for visitors.
“No specific policy for masking is presently in place for visitors to our hospitals and clinics, Gomez said. “We continue to closely monitor community transmission of COVID and will respond as appropriate to ensure the safety of our patients, caregivers and visitors.”