California exempts San Francisco from the COVID indoor mask rule

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California exempts San Francisco from a rule that goes into effect Wednesday that requires all people to wear masks indoors in an attempt to curb a worrying increase in new coronavirus cases.

San Francisco will continue to allow fully vaccinated people to remove their masks in gyms and workplaces while its overall masking mandate remains in effect, the city’s Department of Public Health announced.

“It’s a recognition of all the thought and care that San Francisco residents have put into staying as safe as possible,” said Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco health care professional.

About 86% of eligible San Francisco residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Department of Public Health.

San Francisco companies were relieved that the city can continue to allow fully vaccinated people to go maskless in some indoor locations.

“Having any disruption at all in the progress we’ve made over the last year and a half in getting customers back would have been devastating,” Dave Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness and spokesman for the San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition, said San Francisco Chronicle.

Several other counties in the San Francisco Bay Area also had relaxed masking rules for vaccinated people, but it was not immediately clear whether the state would exempt them as well.

California lifted its nationwide mask mandate on June 15 for people vaccinated, a date that Govin Newsom announced as the state’s grand reopening.

But health officials are concerned about the spread of the new omicron COVID-19 variant, which health authorities believe could spread more easily than the original and delta strains. The virus especially affects the unvaccinated.

The new mandate, which will be in effect until at least January 15, also aims to reduce COVID-19 risk when friends and families travel or gather indoors for the holidays.

But officials have not specified how it will be enforced, and have acknowledged that much will depend on voluntary public compliance.

After California lifted its nationwide mandate for indoor masks this summer, county governments covering about half of the state’s population imposed their own mandates as case rates rose with new variants.

The order comes as the state-wide seven-day average rate of new coronavirus cases has risen 47% since Thanksgiving, and hospital admissions have risen 14%, according to the state Department of Public Health.

It is still far below an increase last winter – before vaccines were available – as the state had an average of more than 100 cases per year. 100,000 people and nearly 20,000 people died during an eight-week period.

What is worrying now is that even though more than 70% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated, some areas of the state still have low vaccination rates that put communities at greater risk for coronavirus, according to the Department of Health.

“Given the current hospital count, which is at or above capacity, even a moderate increase in cases and hospitalizations could affect California’s health care system in certain regions of the state,” the department said.

California joins other states with similar indoor mask mandates, including Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada, Hawaii and New York.

California is also tightening up existing test requirements by ordering unvaccinated people attending indoor events of 1,000 people or more to have a negative test within one or two days, depending on the type of test. The state also recommends travelers visiting or returning to California to be tested within five days of their arrival.

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