Friday, September 23, 2022

Mask Recommendations

CA Eases COVID-19 Mask Recommendations: 5 Things To Know

CALIFORNIA — California's masking rules will be relaxed for the first time in more than half a year as the state's testing positivity rate continues to fall.

Beginning Friday, the state will do away with the guidance that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, mask up inside public spaces.

"This shift in masking is consistent with California’s SMARTER Plan and gives Californians the information they should consider when deciding when to wear a mask, including the rate of spread in the community and personal risk," said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón.

But there will be some stipulations that could trigger the return of mask guidelines.

Here's what you need to know.

1. What will determine masking guidelines now?

The state will now recommend mask wearing only when a county's COVID-19 community spread is high.

Community levels, which show rates of new coronavirus-positive hospitalizations, will now determine which prevention actions should be recommended, the California Department of Public Health announced Tuesday.

The state detailed the following masking recommendations based on community COVID-19 levels:

  • When community levels are low: Those at lower risk for severe illness should wear a mask based on their personal preference and individual level of risk and those at higher risk for severe illness to consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor public places.
  • When community levels are medium: The state advises those at lower risk for severe illness to consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor public places. Wearing a mask is also recommended in crowded indoor public places for those at higher risk for severe illness.
  • When community levels are high: Health officials urge all those at lower risk of severe illness to wear a mask in crowded indoor public places and strongly recommends those at higher risk for severe illness to wear a mask in indoor public places.

2. What about high risk indoor public spaces?

Friday will also mark the end of the state's mandate to mask up in jails, prisons, cooling centers and homeless shelters in counties with a low community level, with rates determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new guidance does not apply to health care and long-term care facilities.

3. How widespread is COVID-19 in California?

For the foreseeable future, public health officials have deemed the coronavirus an indefinite fixture, but the advent of vaccines and treatments have made it easier for Californians to mitigate spread.

As of Wednesday, there were just three California counties that were in the high-risk category — Kings, Madera and Merced, according to data from the CDC.

The state's positivity rate has dropped dramatically since mid-summer. On July 15, the state was reporting a 16.7 percent positivity rate with 4,432 COVID-related hospitalizations. By Sept. 15, the positivity rate had dropped to 6.2 percent, with just 2,580 virus-related hospitalizations reported, according to CDPH.

4. Should Californians be worried about more omicron variants?

The summer coronavirus surge was driven by the infectious omicron subvariant, BA.5, has continued to subside, but two more subvariants — BA.4.6 and BA.2.75 — have been infecting more people.

It's still unclear whether these subvariants will ever compete with their predecessor, BA.5.

"BA.5 is the gorilla in the room," Dr. John Swartzberg — a professor of vaccinology and infectious disease at the University of California, Berkeley — told Patch last month. "There are elements about their structure (BA.4.6 and BA.2.75) that do concern us, but they are not worrisome at this point."

As of Sept. 13, BA.4.6, BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages make up 2.4 percent, 5.0 percent and 89.7% of confirmed Omicron cases sequenced in California, according to CDPH.

These sublineages are 10 percent more infectious than previous strains and have been known to partially evade immunity from vaccination or previous infection, officials said.

"I'm worried about the unknown-unknown," he said. "What's out there that we haven't recognized yet? ...For it to survive, [this virus] has to continue to change."

5. Is the end of the pandemic in sight?

President Joe Biden may have said during a CBS "60 Minutes" that the pandemic is over, but health experts around the world have mixed feelings on that declaration.

"We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic,"said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. "We're not there yet, but the end is in sight."

A month before Biden's remarks about the end of the pandemic, Dr. Swartzberg told Patch: "I think everybody agrees that this virus is going to be with us for the indefinite future — maybe forever."

A new vaccine booster designed to protect against the omicron variant is expected to add a layer of protection against the stubborn variant and its subvariants. The vaccine was rolled out in California with little fanfare, but residents with higher risk for severe COVID-19 are urged to get the new booster right away.

It's tricky to say whether the new omicron booster or future tailored boosters could trigger the end the pandemic.

"We're not going to get out of this pandemic by booster shots, the booster shots are keeping people out of the hospital and keeping our health system working while we can develop things that will give us long term protection," Swartzberg said.

Swartzberg said there's a tremendous amount of work being done in developing something of a "pan-vaccine" — the holy grail of protective measures. This vaccine would protect against a slew of different coronaviruses and their variants.

"It's a vaccine that would be so broad in coverage that you'd only need to get it once a year like the flu shot," he said. "I think that there's really exciting work in that area...we'll be able to give you a vaccine that will cover so many potential changes in the virus, that you'll have good coverage for at least a year."

The other possible development that could dramatically shift the tide of the pandemic would be a nasal vaccine.

"These nasal vaccines could not only prevent us from getting sick — because the virus wouldn't really be able to effectively enter our bodies in any kind of substantial numbers — but they'd also protect other people because you wouldn't be transmitting it," he said.

Swartzberg said he sees the latest booster shots as a bridge to get the nation through the next two years.

"Science is going to really advance in that period of time."

Source: Patch News