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.
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.
"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.
“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.”
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.
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."