California’s indoor mask mandate has been extended one month, through at least Feb. 15, amid surging cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced Wednesday.
The mandate went into effect on Dec. 15, 2021, and was set to expire Jan. 15, 2022. It requires that masks be worn in all indoor public settings — regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.
“Omicron is here,” Ghaly said in a briefing to reporters Wednesday. “We can’t abandon the tools that we’ve used to achieve our collective success throughout this pandemic.”
He urged Californians to wear a well-fitted mask with a good seal around the mouth and nose with no gaps, as the highly transmissible omicron variant of coronavirus spreads rapidly.
While several counties have already imposed their own mask mandates after California’s “grand reopening” on June 15, 2021, about half of the state’s population live in counties that do not have their own masking requirements.
Residents in Los Angeles and Ventura counties have already been masking up indoors due to their county-enacted mandates. But others in counties like Orange and San Bernardino, the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and rural Northern California haven’t been required to wear masks indoors since the state dropped its previous mask mandate in the summer.
Before the statewide mandate went into effect last month, masking was a recommendation rather than a requirement, except in certain indoor spaces like public transit and schools. Masking was also already required for unvaccinated workers at high-risk congregate and other health care settings.
Now, face coverings are required for everyone in all indoor public settings like gyms, malls, restaurants and stores.
The mandate’s Feb. 15 end date will be reevaluated closer to that day, based on conditions across California, as well as hospitalization rates.
Even though the state is seeing a rising number of new COVID cases, today’s situation is better in many ways than last year, Ghaly said, due to the vaccines.
“That said, we are and continue to be concerned about our hospitals,” he added. “We are concerned about the level of admission.”
At this time last year during the winter surge, hospitalizations statewide were beginning to peak at about 53,000 people total, including for conditions other than COVID. As of Wednesday morning, the state was approaching 51,000 individuals in the hospital, with just over 8,000 of them being admitted with COVID-19.