California health officials have issued revised guidelines for mask-wearing that recommend universal masking indoors statewide, a posture that is stricter than updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC on July 27 revised its guidance on masking, citing the threat of the Delta variant, with the agency now recommending fully vaccinated people to mask up indoors in public places if they’re in areas of “substantial or high transmission.” According to the CDC, most of California falls into that category, though a handful of counties are in “moderate” and “low” categories.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on Wednesday announced its updated guidance, urging all Californians statewide to mask up.
“To achieve universal masking in indoor public settings, we are recommending that fully vaccinated people also mask in indoor public settings across California,” the CDPH notice reads. “This adds an extra precautionary measure for all to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, especially in communities currently seeing the highest transmission rates.”
While the new guidelines for universal masking are a recommendation, not a mandate, facial coverings are a requirement for all Californians regardless of vaccination in a range of circumstances. This includes people on public transit, indoors in kindergarten through 12th grade schools, in homeless and emergency shelters, in health care and long-term care settings, and in prisons and jails.
CDPH director Dr. Tomás Aragón cited the spread of the more highly transmissible Delta variant as driving the policy shift.
“The Delta variant has caused a sharp increase in hospitalizations and case rates across the state. We are recommending masking in indoor public places to slow the spread while we continue efforts to get more Californians vaccinated,” Aragón said in a statement Wednesday, according to The Los Angeles Times.
It comes after Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told reporters on a call July 27 that new data about outbreaks from several states and other countries “indicate that on rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.”
Walensky added that “this new science is worrisome and warrants an update to our recommendations.”
“Unlike the Alpha variant that we had back in May where we didn’t believe that if you were vaccinated, you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant,” Walensky said.
The Delta variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the pathogen that causes COVID-19, has been listed as a “variant of concern” by the CDC, which considers it to be more transmissible and potentially more resistant to vaccines.
While the CDC’s revised masking guidance isn’t binding, it’s closely followed by health departments, businesses, and other entities across the country, which often calibrate enforceable policies according to the agency’s recommendations.
Mask-wearing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has become a hot-button issue, with some questioning the efficacy of facial coverings and others opposing mandates on grounds of personal liberty. Advocates tend to have taken a better-safe-than-sorry approach in the face of underpowered efficacy studies on mask-wearing, while generally viewing mandates as a minor inconvenience that helps protect people who are prone to serious complications if they get infected.