Health Care Workers Mandated to Wear Masks in Several Counties: Officials

Several Bay Area health agencies in California have said that mandatory masking will return to hospitals.
Health Care Workers Mandated to Wear Masks in Several Counties: Officials
A health care professional prepares to enter a patient's room, in a file photo. (Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images)
Jack Phillips

Several Bay Area health agencies in California announced last week that mandatory masking would return to hospitals and health care settings for the fall and winter months.

Contra Costa, Sonoma, Alameda, and San Mateo counties issued mask orders for health care staff in hospitals and other care facilities. The orders start on Nov. 1 and last until April 30, 2024, officials said, citing recent increases in COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory viruses that are typically commonplace during the colder months.

“Each year we see that higher rates of influenza, COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses that can cause severe respiratory infections occur annually between late fall and spring,” Dr. Karen Smith, the Sonoma County interim health officer, said in a statement last week.

Contra Costa Health Services CEO Anna Roth told the county's board of supervisors last week that the mandate will be enacted, according to local media reports.

"We are issuing the health order today around masking for high-risk facilities, health care facilities specifically," Ms. Roth said. "So again, masking in hospitals, masking in skilled nursing facilities, masking in high-risk facilities."
In Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland, the mandate will go into effect for “operators of specified Health Care Facilities" because of COVID-19, RSV, and influenza, according to KRON 4 television. Staff are now mandated to wear "high quality" and "well-fitting" masks while inside patient care settings, officials said several days ago.
At about the same time, the San Mateo County Health Department issued an order that also mandates masks in patient care settings for health care workers for the same aforementioned period, starting on Nov. 1. Health care staff who don't comply may face fines and misdemeanor charges.

"Please read this order carefully. Violation of, or failure to comply with, this Order is a public nuisance subject to citation, abatement, or both, as well as a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both," it reads.

Health officials in Santa Clara County, which includes the city of San Jose and Silicon Valley, already set a mandate in March that will require masks in patient care areas between the late fall and the spring.

“Historical data show higher rates of infection by COVID-19, influenza, RSV and other viruses in Contra Costa County annually between late fall and spring,” Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the county’s health officer, wrote in the order at the time.
 Signs reminding people of social distancing and wearing face masks remain at a mall in California on June 14, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Signs reminding people of social distancing and wearing face masks remain at a mall in California on June 14, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

“This seasonal increase in circulation of multiple respiratory viruses poses a particular risk to people more likely to experience severe disease and death if infected, including infants, older adults, and people with impaired immunity.”

A similar rule was initiated in San Francisco. The city, which is also a county, already enforces year-round masking for health care staffers, visitors, and patients, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
While the Bay Area county health agencies all cited an increase in COVID-19, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that the current rise in reported cases is far lower than the historical average—especially previous surges of the virus.

Since August, several hospitals across the United States have reimplemented mask mandates, although some have only made face coverings mandatory for employees—not patients or visitors. A smaller number of schools and some private businesses have also made masking mandatory in recent weeks, sparking fears of a repeat of COVID-19 mandates that were imposed over the past several years.

Republican officials have expressed alarm about the return of mandates, with several 2024 GOP presidential candidates speaking out against them. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month said his state wouldn't reimplement the mandates, and former President Donald Trump released a video on social media calling on Americans to resist the rules, which he described as tyrannical.

Milder Symptoms?

Earlier this month, a handful of doctors revealed that symptoms of COVID-19 appear to be getting milder. Some said it's difficult to distinguish COVID-19 from influenza, the common cold, or even allergies without testing.
“It isn’t the same typical symptoms that we were seeing before. It’s a lot of congestion, sometimes sneezing, usually a mild sore throat,” Dr. Erick Eiting, vice chair of operations for emergency medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai, told NBC News in a Sept. 16 interview.

He noted that "just about everyone who I’ve seen has had really mild symptoms,” referring to urgent care COVID-19 patients at his hospital.

“The only way that we knew that it was COVID was because we happened to be testing them," he said.

Dr. Dan Barouch, head of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said the mild symptoms may be, in part, due to prior immunity.

"Overall, the severity of COVID is much lower than it was a year ago and two years ago," he said. "That’s not because the variants are less robust. It’s because the immune responses are higher."

Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter with 15 years experience who started as a local New York City reporter. Having joined The Epoch Times' news team in 2009, Jack was born and raised near Modesto in California's Central Valley. Follow him on X: