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California orders statewide mask requirement starting Wednesday amid rising coronavirus cases

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*Shared from the LA times

California orders statewide mask requirement starting Wednesday amid rising coronavirus cases

Faced with rising coronavirus cases and growing concerns about the Omicron variant, California is ordering a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces to go into effect on Wednesday.

The move comes as coronavirus case rates in California have risen by almost 50% in the last 2½ weeks, and COVID-19 hospitalizations are up by nearly 15%. County health officials across the state say they suspect they may be seeing the start of a winter jump in coronavirus cases.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks California as having a high level of transmission of the coronavirus, the worst tier in the federal agency’s four-tier scale.

“This is a critical time where we have a tool that we know has worked and can work,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, said Monday. “We are proactively putting this tool of universal indoor masking in public settings in place to ensure we get through a time of joy and hope — without a darker cloud of concern and despair.”

The order will affect roughly half the state’s population, including San Diego and Orange counties, the Inland Empire, and swaths of the Central Valley and rural Northern California. The statewide indoor mask mandate order will last a month, expiring on Jan. 15.

A number of California counties — including Los Angeles, Ventura and Sacramento — and most of the San Francisco Bay Area already have their own indoor mask mandates that were implemented in the summer and have no end dates.

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

California’s announcement came on the same day New York enacted its own statewide mask requirement in indoor public spaces, excepting only settings where everyone inside must be vaccinated. Officials in Britain have also reordered an expansion of indoor mask mandates.

The new mask orders arrive as the Omicron variant — discovered only last month — has spread rapidly around the globe. Britain has recorded its first death of someone infected with the Omicron variant.

“Omicron will almost certainly overtake Delta and cause new waves of infection globally,” Dr. Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, tweeted. While there has been some optimism that Omicron may cause less severe illness, “this will take time to figure out,” Frieden wrote.

Troublingly, studies of household members find that Omicron poses more than double the risk of coronavirus transmission compared with Delta, Frieden said. In Britain, officials expect new Omicron cases to become equal to that of Delta sometime in mid-December, with Omicron cases doubling every two to three days, Frieden said.

“Make no mistake, Omicron has the potential to induce an enormous number of infections worldwide and even if severe COVID is one-tenth that of Delta or preceding variants, in absolute numbers it could lead to a major toll of hospitalizations or deaths,” Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, wrote in a blog post.

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