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Face Masks Are Returning to Hospitals. What's Your Bay Area County Doing?

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A woman with long hair, glasses, a mask, and a floral shirt points at a clipboard, which a doctor in blue scrubs and a mask looks at.
Substance use navigator Monique Randolph confers with an ER doctor at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco on Aug. 26, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

As winter approaches, there’s a higher chance of viruses like COVID, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the flu going through our communities.

The arrival of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls respiratory disease season has prompted almost all of the nine Bay Area counties to issue types of face mask requirements for their staff in health care facilities.

In Alameda County, for example, a masking order started Wednesday and will last through April 30, 2024.

“The fall and winter of 2022-23 saw substantial waves of RSV, flu and COVID-19, and a similar pattern is expected this year,” an Alameda County health department spokesperson told KQED in an email.

Alameda County will now require staff and other workers to wear “high-quality, well-fitting masks in patient care areas” of specific health care settings, including hospitals, nursing facilities and dialysis centers, regardless of their COVID vaccination status. The county spokesperson says this will help “combat the spread of these viruses to vulnerable patients and residents and minimize the associated risk of severe illness and death.”

Only Solano County stops short of a mask mandate for these staff, instead only “recommending” the usage of masks during the winter virus season.

More COVID Guides

However, of the nine Bay Area counties, only two — Santa Clara and Marin — require visitors, patients, and workers to also wear masks in these settings, as confirmed by the county’s public health department spokesperson. In Marin County, all individuals in patient care areas are asked to mask — except those under six years old or with a medical excuse.

Most of the counties — like San Francisco, Alameda and San Mateo — are only enforcing the mask rule on staff or patient-facing workers, although some do recommend all entering health care facilities wear masks.

San Francisco’s Health Officer also recommends continuing “appropriate protections based on their situation,” such as getting the new COVID vaccine, wearing a well-fitted mask in appropriate settings, staying at home if you are feeling ill, and staying aware of medications like Paxlovid that help with the severity of the COVID infection.

Scroll down to find out your county’s current masking rules, according to their county spokesperson.

Masks have been found to be effective at reducing the transmission of COVID “when worn consistently and correctly,” says the CDC, and any mask is better than no mask” in protecting your individual health — especially ahead of the holiday season when many people gather and travel.“ Wearing a mask also reduces the likelihood of community spread and helps protect those at higher risk for severe illness or death from COVID, like older or immunocompromised people.

If it feels like everyone you know got COVID again in the last few months, you are not alone. Read KQED’s guide to the latest COVID variant’s symptoms and what incubation periods now look like for the virus. And remember, COVID is not the only illness in the mix — the flu is circulating along with RSV. Read KQED’s guide to getting your flu and RSV shots.

A health care worker wearing blue scrubs and a white face mask holds a vial of COVID vaccine.
Registered nurse Devin Perez prepares a dose of the Moderna vaccine. (Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

What are your Bay Area county’s masking rules for health care settings?

San Francisco

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? Staff and health care personnel; does not require patients or visitors.

When is this in effect? Nov. 1 through April 30, 2024

Alameda

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? Staff and other workers in specified Health Care Facilities. Patients and visitors are recommended.

When is this in effect? Nov. 1 through April 30, 2024

Santa Clara

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? Patients, visitors and staff.

When is this in effect? Nov. 1 through next March

San Mateo

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? Staff in the patient care areas of in-patient facilities such as hospitals must wear masks.

When is this in effect? Nov. 1 through April 30, 2024

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Marin

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? “Mask requirement will apply to all individuals within the facility while they are in patient care areas,” a Marin County spokesperson told KQED. “Children under age 6 and those with a valid medical reason are exempt.”

When is this in effect? Nov. 1 through March 31, 2024

Contra Costa

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? All patient-facing county staff are required to mask. Patients are recommended to mask, but it’s not required.

When is this in effect? Effective Nov. 1.

Napa

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? Only staff must mask in Napa, but visitors are recommended for at-risk patients.

When is this in effect? Nov. 1 to April 30, 2024

Sonoma

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? Only health care workers in Sonoma patient settings.
When is this in effect? Nov. 1 to April 30, 2024

Solano

Who has to wear a mask in these settings? Solano has only “recommended” masking for health care staffers and suggests that those who manage health care settings “utilize the guidance that is appropriate for your facility.”

When is this in effect? Nov. 1 to April 30, 2024.

Tell us: What else do you need information about?

At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2023. We’ve published clear, practical explainers and guides about COVID, how to cope with intense winter weather, and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger and help us decide what to cover here on our site and on KQED Public Radio, too.

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