California health secretary: New mask mandate will start Wednesday

California

(KTXL) — As California reports more cases of the omicron variant and families gather for the holidays, the state’s health secretary announced a new mask mandate will go into effect Wednesday.

In a call with reporters Monday, Dr. Mark Ghaly announced California would be implementing a mandate requiring everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Ghaly cited a 47% increase in COVID-19 cases across California since Thanksgiving and the California Department of Public Health reported a 14% increase in hospitalizations.

“We know people are tired and hungry for normalcy. Frankly, I am too,” Ghaly said Monday. “That said, this is a critical time where we have a tool that we know has worked and can work.”

“Our collective actions can save lives this holiday season. We are already seeing a higher level of transmission this winter and it is important to act now to prevent overwhelming our busy hospitals so we can provide quality health care to all Californians,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, the CDPH director and the state’s public health officer. 

The mandate is expected to expire Jan. 15.

Dr. Ghaly did not elaborate on how the mandate would be enforced.

California is also tightening existing testing requirements by ordering unvaccinated people attending indoor “mega-events” of 1,000 people or more to have a negative test within one or two days, depending on the type of test.

The state also is recommending travelers who visit or return to California to get tested within five days of their arrival.

“We know that there’s going to be people who don’t necessarily agree with this, who are tired, who aren’t going to mask,” Ghaly said. “We hope that those are few and far between, that most people see the purpose of doing this over the next month as something to protect them and their communities during a very tough time.”

California lifted its statewide mask mandate on June 15 for people who were vaccinated, a date Gov. Gavin Newsom heralded as the state’s grand reopening. But since then, county governments covering about half of the state’s population have imposed their own indoor mask mandates as case rates surged with new variants.

Sacramento County’s own order went into effect back in late July and requires everyone, no matter their vaccination status, to wear a mask indoors while in public.

In other counties, such as El Dorado County, there was no local mandate. So, the new state mandate has left some residents disappointed.

“I feel like it should be up to individuals,” one Placerville resident said.

Several businesses told FOX40 they do not plan on enforcing the mandate. The CEO of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce said they very much oppose the mandate, calling it an overreach in a statement.

We are very much opposed to this mandate and feel strongly that it is over-reach from the Governor. We believe this decision should be left to the individual business owner.  If a consumer is uncomfortable with the businesses policy they have the option of doing business elsewhere.  The businesses and community of El Dorado County are responsible stewards of our home.

Laurel Brent-Bumb, CEO of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce

As of Monday, California has confirmed 4,886,509 COVID-19 cases and 74,685 deaths. Over 77% of all Californians eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine have received at least one dose, according to the CDPH.

The CDPH said unvaccinated Californians are falling ill, being hospitalized and dying at a much higher rate than other residents. In data released Monday, the CDPH reported unvaccinated residents are 7.1 times more likely to get COVID-19, 12.5 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus and 13 times more likely to die from complications of the virus.

The nation’s first recorded case of the omicron variant came out of San Francisco on the first day of December.

Newsom and the state’s top health officials said the discovery did not surprise them. They explained California’s access to biotech and genomic sequencing efforts made it inevitable the first case would be detected in the Golden State.

“We are proud to be able to identify because of those efforts to be well prepared around COVID, the lessons we learned over the past 20 months to be ready on all fronts and California demonstrates that today,” Dr. Ghaly said at the time.

One of their main messages to the public right was that now is not the time to panic.

“As we enter this period of uncertainty, it is not the time to panic,” Ghaly said.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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