With COVID-19 infections continuing to rise in the county, and hospitalization numbers increasing over the past several weeks, county officials urged residents and businesses Tuesday to don masks before they become mandatory — which could happen by month’s end.
“This may not be a pandemic that ends,” county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “It may simply continue to shift and change and we will live with it one way or another, primarily by vaccination and probably masking. But I think people really want to think the whole thing is over, and that’s not helpful to the numbers.”
Kuehl noted that many indoor businesses — notably movie theaters — are no longer requiring masks, but said companies should consider mandating face coverings, given the county’s high rate of virus transmission.
“If we can sort of advertise `this ain’t over,’ and it’s probably better for your business if you help people be protected,” she said. “That may be the message we want to give.”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger echoed that sentiment, saying the county should make it clear to businesses that they have the right to require workers and customers to wear masks.
“Businesses can require that in order to come into my establishment, we want you to wear a mask,” she said.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that if the rate of COVID hospitalization numbers continues rising at the pace it has for the past two weeks, the county would move into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “high” virus activity category by late June. Ferrer said that if the county remains in the “high” category for two straight weeks, the county will reimpose a universal indoor mask-wearing mandate.
But she said there’s no reason people should wait to start wearing masks again.
“I do want to encourage everybody to use your masks now,” Ferrer said. “… We don’t have to wait until things get much worse.”
Masks are still mandatory in high-risk settings such as healthcare facilities, aboard transit vehicles and in transit centers and airports, in correctional facilities and at long-term care facilities.
The county is currently in the CDC’s “medium” level of COVID activity. It will move into the “high” category if its average daily rate of new COVID-related hospital admissions rises above 10 per 100,000 residents, or if the percentage of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients tops 10%.
The figures have both been slowly rising over the past several weeks, with the rate of new admissions reaching 7.2 per 100,000 residents as of Tuesday, up from 6.4 last Thursday. The portion of hospital beds in the county occupied by virus patients was 3.3% as of Tuesday, up from 3.1% on Thursday.
According to state figures, there were 579 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, down from 593 a day earlier. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 60, down from 62 on Monday.
Health officials have noted that many COVID-positive patients were actually admitted to hospitals for a reason other than the virus, and often they only learned they were infected upon admission.
Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that current countywide hospital figures show that 40% of COVID-positive patients are being treated specifically for COVID. The other 60% were admitted for other reasons. She has noted, however, that all virus-positive patients require extra infection-control measures at hospitals, regardless of the reason they were admitted.
The county reported 3,310 new COVID cases on Tuesday, raising the overall total from throughout the pandemic to 3,041,815. Another nine virus-related fatalities were reported, giving the county a cumulative death toll of 32,227.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 5.5% as of Tuesday.
Ferrer noted that the positivity rate is likely to increase in the coming weeks, since many schools — which account for a large portion of the weekly COVID tests in the county — are out of session for the summer.