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Bay Area Health Officials Urge Residents to Mask Up Indoors (Again) as COVID Cases Rise

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A seated woman gets a COVID test via swab from a gowned practitioner
 (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

It's déjà vu all over again (and again and again).

Public health officials in nearly every Bay Area county — and some neighboring ones — urged residents on Friday to once again mask up in public indoor spaces and take other COVID-19 precautions, as cases and hospitalizations rise across the region.

In a rare joint statement, officials in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties said the Bay Area is now home to California's highest infection rates, an unwelcome uptick fueled by the highly contagious omicron subvariants.

"We're seeing an increase in cases, and that's true throughout the region," Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco’s health officer, told KQED in an interview Friday. "We're on the upswing right now. And to me, that's the trend that we should be thinking about and then making our decisions based on."

Since early April, case rates in almost every county in the region have ticked up faster than the statewide average, officials said, noting that the number of positive cases are likely higher than reported given the prevalence of at-home tests. And COVID-related hospitalizations in the area, while still relatively low, are also rising at a more rapid clip than elsewhere in the state.

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Philip emphasized that Friday's warning is "not meant to scare people."

"Really, what we are trying to do is make people aware that this is happening and then to remind them of all the ways that they can personally take steps to either prevent COVID infections, if that's their goal, or to know how they can get treatment if they do test positive, if they are higher risk," she said, adding that it's not known why there are more infections in this area compared to others.

Health officials doubled down on their ongoing recommendation that people wear high-quality masks (like N95/KN95s or snug-fitting surgical masks) in public indoor areas — even though doing so is no longer required in most places. They also encouraged residents to stay up to date on vaccinations by getting boosters when eligible, and getting tested after potential exposures.

Philip said that despite the troubling increase, officials in San Francisco are "not considering at the moment going back towards mandates," including the city's recently lifted mask rule for passengers riding on Muni.

"We are at a time now in the pandemic that's very different than where we've been for the past few years because of the high uptake of vaccines — 84% of us now being vaccinated — and also because we have treatments," she said, pointing to the increasing availability of Paxlovid and other antiviral pills that can help stave off more serious COVID symptoms. The treatments, she said, will be increasingly accessible online and at community pharmacies for seniors and people with medical conditions who test positive.

And while cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, Philip said that unlike in some of the previous surges, the number of people needing treatment in hospital intensive care units remains low. Vaccines and other therapies have so far helped keep people from getting "very, very sick with COVID-19," she said. "The data are really encouraging."


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