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California to bring back indoor mask mandate

Face coverings will be required regardless of vaccination status starting Wednesday.
Shoppers rest on a bench inside the Japan Center in San Francisco on Aug. 25, 2021.
Shoppers rest on a bench in the Japan Center in San Francisco on Aug. 25.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

SAN DIEGO — Amid rising Covid-19 case numbers and fears that the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus could spark a new wave of infections, the country's largest state is reimposing its indoor mask mandate, officials announced Monday.

California's mandate, which resumes Wednesday, will last at least a month, when the state Public Health Department "will make further recommendations as needed," officials said in a statement.

It applies regardless of vaccination status.

The state health and human services secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said an anticipated wave of gatherings during the year-end holidays — muted by last year's pandemic restrictions — influenced the decision to bring back the mandate.

The rule was reimplemented "to ensure we get through a time of joy and hope without a darker cloud of concern and despair," he said at an afternoon teleconference.

The mandate doesn't apply to private gatherings, however.

"Wearing a mask is going to be one of the most important things to get us through this period of uncertainty," Ghaly said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stood by its recommendations for the fully vaccinated, which include the following: "In general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings."

It does recommend indoor mask-wearing for "areas with high numbers of Covid-19 cases."

Vaccination isn't foolproof, but those who are inoculated, especially with boosters, are less likely to need hospitalization if they contract Covid.

Even without a significant impact thus far from the omicron variant, the state's seven-day average case rate has increased by 47 percent since Thanksgiving, the health department said. Hospitalizations were up by 14 percent.

State health officials also recommended Monday that travelers arriving in California or returning home have negative antigen tests that are less than one day old or negative PCR tests that are less than two days old.

They also mandated the testing rules for "mega-events," such as concerts and sporting events.

On June 16, as a result of lower transmission attributed to vaccination, so-called lockdowns and mask rules, the state lifted many of its pandemic regulations. Masks were no longer required for the vaccinated.

In October, officials in the state's largest county, Los Angeles, published details of updated pandemic guidelines, including the rule that mask-wearing indoors is mandatory regardless of vaccination status.