Here We Go Again? Indoor Masking Recommended as COVID Variants Flourish

By Sharon Byrne   |   July 29, 2021

On July 19, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department issued guidance recommending folks wear masks while indoors, whether vaccinated or not.

This isn’t a surprise, given what has been happening with the Delta variant, which includes:

•Significant uptick in cases in Israel, the UK, Los Angeles, and now the Bay Area.

•Israel resumed mandated masking in June, even for the fully vaccinated, just days after they’d lifted restrictions and welcomed foreign tourists in.

•Los Angeles County recommended masking indoors two weeks ago, and Friday, issued a mandate on it.

• The Bay Area’s seven counties are also urging indoor masking as of Friday.

Here’s the guidance from Santa Barbara County, per the Public Health Department:

The County of Santa Barbara recommends masking indoors for everyone, as a precaution against increased circulation of COVID-19. As of July 16, Santa Barbara’s reported daily case rate is now 3.6 per 100,000 and rising. With cases of COVID-19 rising locally and increased circulation of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the county of Santa Barbara recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in public places as an extra precautionary measure for those who are fully vaccinated, and to ensure easy verification that all unvaccinated people are masked in those settings.

As of July, the Delta variants comprised 50 percent of all specimens sequenced in California and continues to rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that Delta variants are now responsible for 58 percent of new infections across the country.

Fully vaccinated people are well-protected from infections and serious illness due to known COVID-19 variants, including Delta, and vaccinating as many people as possible, as soon as possible, continues to be our best defense against severe COVID-19 infection, and the harm it can do to our region. Vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available to everyone 12 and older.

Out of an abundance of caution, people are recommended to wear masks indoors in settings like grocery or retail stores, theaters, and family entertainment centers, even if they are fully vaccinated, as an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents. Businesses are urged to adopt universal masking requirements for customers entering indoor areas of their businesses to provide better protection to their employees and customers. Workplaces must comply with Cal/OSHA requirements and fully vaccinated employees are encouraged to wear masks indoors if their employer has not confirmed the vaccination status of those around them.

“It remains critically important that we continue to practice safety guidelines such as staying home if feeling ill, wear a mask in public indoor settings, avoid crowded events, and practice good hand hygiene,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County Health Officer.

For masks to work properly, they need to completely cover your nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of your face and around your nose.

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department will revisit this recommendation in the coming weeks as it continues to monitor transmission rates, hospitalizations, deaths, and increasing vaccination rates throughout the region.

“We have a method of preventing severe illness and hospitalization from the COVID-19 Delta variant which we know is effective, and that is getting vaccinated,” said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Director. “It remains critical for protection against infection, especially with circulating variants.”

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. People with only one vaccine dose of Pfizer or Moderna are not fully protected. Completion of the vaccine series is necessary to provide full protection.

If you missed your second dose, please find a vaccination clinic near you.

A Closer Look at Los Angeles County

In Los Angeles, the situation is escalating to March levels of caseloads. Here’s a closer look at the county’s data:

•99.8% of COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County have been among unvaccinated people.

•Not a single fully vaccinated person has been hospitalized for COVID-19 at L.A. County’s massive public hospital system.

What Happened to the Fully Vaccinated?

We continue to see an uneven march forward out of the pandemic. Cases get to manageable levels, restrictions get lifted, then cases start ticking upwards, sometimes dramatically, and public health officials and governments react to best protect their people. Everyone is pioneering on this front. Many of you had the instinct to continue masking indoors and avoid large gatherings after restrictions were lifted June 15 in California — that was smart.

We’re always going to encourage you to put your health first, and sometimes that means ignoring social cues and avoiding situations that don’t fully support the protection of your health.

So, stay safe, and stay healthy!


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