Citing the continued risk of coronavirus transmission, state health officials are still strongly recommending that Californians wear face coverings when using public transportation, even though they are no longer required to do so.
The updated guidelines released Wednesday reflect the new masking landscape forged by this week’s court ruling overturning a federal face-covering order for public transportation systems such as buses, trains and planes.
But it’s also the latest example of the California Department of Public Health continuing to tout the benefits of masking, while relaxing its own requirements. The department, for example, is still urging residents to wear face coverings in indoor public places and businesses, despite lifting that mandate weeks ago.
This recommended but not mandatory position illustrates the current state of COVID-19 in California, where infections have rebounded, but the number of people getting seriously ill or dying from the disease is at some of its lowest levels.
Such conditions, some officials and experts say, merit the easing of some public health interventions, even if they continue to provide tangible benefits.
Dr. Tomás Aragón, state public health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health, said “masks, along with vaccines, are an effective and important layer of protection against COVID-19. “.
“Going forward, California will strongly recommend masks on all public transportation and in transit centers, including bus and train stations, ferry terminals, and airports,” he continued in a statement. reported to The Times. “These crowded environments should be considered high risk and may often lack adequate ventilation.”
California, Aragón added, continues “to monitor federal action on this issue and will announce any additional changes to state policies as necessary.”
Los Angeles County health officials are also urging travelers to keep their masks on for the time being.
“Masks continue to be one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread, along with respirators [N95, KN95, KF94] or medical-grade masks that offer better protection than cloth masks,” the county public health department said in a statement. “Anyone traveling or planning to travel should think about their personal risk and the risk of others they come in contact with and consider getting vaccinated or vaccinated, taking a COVID-19 test before and after travel, getting wash hands often and wear a high quality bathing suit. masks in indoor shared spaces.
San Francisco Bay Area transit agencies officially dropped their mask requirements on Wednesday, but also continue to suggest wearing face coverings.
The board governing the BART commuter rail system, however, will consider reinstating a mask mandate at a meeting next Thursday.
“COVID cases are on the rise again, and we need to keep runners safe, especially those who are immunocompromised or under 5 and not yet eligible to get vaccinated,” the Board Chair tweeted. administration of BART, Rebecca Saltzman.
Coronavirus cases are increasing nationwide, from 27,000 to 41,000 cases per day over the past two weeks. New daily positive coronavirus hospitalizations nationwide are still among the lowest levels since record-keeping began, but are beginning to rise and are up 7% from the previous week.
Scientists are keeping a close eye on Omicron’s latest highly contagious subvariant, BA.2.12.1, which is said to be 25% more contagious than its parent subvariant, BA.2. The new subvariant already accounts for more than half of new coronavirus cases in New York and New Jersey.
It remains unclear if the latest increase will be modest and end up being a blow, or if it’s the start of something more troublesome that could potentially strain hospitals.
The long-standing transit mask warrant was effectively given to the cutting room floor on Monday, following an order from a U.S. District Judge in Florida.
Immediately after the decision, the Transportation Security Administration said it would no longer enforce the mask rule, and many airlines, transit systems and transit companies such as Uber and Lyft decided to lift quickly these requirements for passengers.
However, the legal wrangling does not appear to be over. Acting at the request of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Justice Department decided to appeal the decision on Wednesday.
“It is the CDC’s continuing assessment that, at this time, an order requiring masking in the domestic transportation corridor remains necessary for public health,” the agency said. said in a statement. “The CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine if such an order remains necessary. The CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within the CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.
Prior to the ruling, the CDC had extended the mask’s mandate through May 3. As it stands, the agency “continues to recommend that people wear masks on all domestic public transportation.”
“As we’ve said before, wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated areas, such as the transportation corridor,” the statement continued. “When people wear a properly fitted mask or respirator over their nose and mouth while traveling indoors or on public transport, they are protecting themselves and those around them, including those who are immunocompromised. or who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, and help keep travel and public transport safer for everyone.
Although acclaimed in some circles, the sudden expiry of the mask order has raised concern among some experts who did not support the timing or the fact that the decision was made by a judge rather than officials. public health officials.
The lack of mask ordering also presents additional challenges for many medically vulnerable people and their families – who are now wondering whether to take air travel or how to navigate other public transport options.
“We fought so hard for the right to exist in our community, and now that these mask mandates are falling, which will make it even harder for us to do that, is just infuriating,” said Maria Town, president. and CEO of the American Assn. people with disabilities.
Times writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.
Los Angeles Times