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Alameda County reinstating indoor mask mandate

Health officials say rise in COVID-19 cases are leading to more hospitalizations

Alameda County health officials are once again requiring people to wear masks in most indoor public settings starting today (June 3) because of increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations.

According to an Alameda County health emergency statement, the daily reported COVID-19 cases have exceeded the peak of last summer’s delta wave and are approaching levels seen during the winter 2020-21 wave.

There are 102 people currently hospitalized in Alameda County according to data from the county Public Health Department. Public health officials said they are monitoring cases and hospitalizations to determine when this order can be lifted safely. 

Masks won't be required for K-12 schools through the end of the 2021-22 school year but they will be required in other settings such as childcare, summer school and youth programs.

"Rising COVID cases in Alameda County are now leading to more people being hospitalized and today’s action reflects the seriousness of the moment," said Alameda County health officer Nicholas Moss in the county's statement. "We cannot ignore the data, and we can’t predict when this wave may end. Putting our masks back on gives us the best opportunity to limit the impact of a prolonged wave on our communities."

The county also said in its statement that reported cases are an underestimate of the total due to home testing and unidentified infections.

Public health officials expect to reach the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "High" COVID-19 Community Level soon, given these current trends. 

"While COVID-19 vaccination, boosters, prior infection and available medications provide protection against severe illness, the virus that causes COVID is circulating at very high levels in Alameda County," according to the statement.

Health officials said that wearing a mask protects both the wearer and those around them and having more people masked will help slow infections.

"We thank Alameda County residents, employers, and businesses for continuing to rise to the challenge in response to this pandemic," said Colleen Chawla, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. "Unfortunately, COVID has not gone away and once again, we must take measures to protect ourselves, friends and community members, and employees and patrons from this very infectious virus," Chawla added. 

Another issue circulating the rise in infection numbers is how it is affecting communities of color given that Hispanic and Latino residents now have the highest case rate in Alameda County among the largest race and ethnicity groups.

County officials said they are aware of how these communities have historically experienced health disparities and are aiming to mitigate COVID-19 disparities where possible.

"We are seeing the same pattern of disproportionate impact on hard hit communities play out again with rising cases," said Kimi Watkins-Tartt, director of Alameda County Health Care Services Agency’s Public Health Department. "Many Black and brown residents are frontline workers who can’t work from home and are in workplaces where they frequently interact with the public. A masking order will limit the spread of COVID in these vulnerable communities."