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With the Delta variant, more and more Californian regions are asking for indoor masks

Six other California counties are urging residents to wear masks in indoor public places amid worrying increases in coronavirus cases and continued circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant.

The latest recommendations from Santa Barbara, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Ventura bring to 17 the number of counties now requiring even fully vaccinated people to wear face covers as a precaution inside places like grocery stores , cinemas and retail outlets. .

So far only one – Los Angeles County – has gone further and mandated the wearing of masks in such contexts. The city of Pasadena, which has its own independent health service, said it will do the same later this week.

“All members of the community must take action to protect themselves and others from this potentially deadly virus,” Ventura County health official Dr Robert Levin said on Monday. “While vaccines remain our best tool against COVID-19, masking in crowded indoor and outdoor environments will help us curb the spread of this latest wave of infection. “

The new set of warnings means about 56% of Californians live in a county that recommends or requires indoor masking for all individuals, including those vaccinated for COVID-19.

And, if infections continue to rise, that tally seems likely to increase in the days and weeks to come.

Health officials characterized the renewed calls for hiding indoors as an effective but low-key tactic to curb coronavirus transmission, which increased rapidly after California reopened on June 15.

“It remains extremely important that we continue to apply safety guidelines such as staying home if you feel ill, wearing a mask in indoor public places, avoiding overcrowded events and practicing good hand hygiene,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County Health Officer. in a statement Monday.

None of the last five counties to recommend indoor masking have seen a record number of coronavirus cases. But most reported an increase in average daily infections from a month ago, according to data compiled by The Times.

Santa Barbara County, for example, has reported an average of around 29 new coronavirus cases per day over the past week – a relatively low number compared to previous waves, but nearly six times the level from mid-June.

California reported an average of 3,671 new cases per day over the past week. That’s more than quadruple the number a month ago, although only a fraction of what the state was reporting at the height of the fall and winter wave remains.

Despite decisions made at the county level, the California Department of Public Health and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that fully vaccinated people can do without masks in most situations, given the level high protection provided by injections.

Experts say the latest outbreak of the pandemic is the result of a few factors. First, officials acknowledged that there would likely be an increase in transmission after June 15, the day California lifted virtually all of its coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and public spaces.

As of that day, fully vaccinated Californians were allowed to roam without masks almost anywhere, while unvaccinated residents were always required to mask themselves in indoor public spaces.

However, since many companies and places have not monitored the immunization status of their customers, it is possible that many unvaccinated people have started to cover their faces, even in environments where they were always required. Officials note that universal indoor masking recommendations or requirements would prevent this from happening, albeit at the cost of asking vaccinated people to give up one of their recently gained freedoms.

“It just levels the playing field. It provides protection for everyone,” LA County health worker Dr. Muntu Davis said last week.

Another increasingly urgent problem is the continued circulation of the Delta variant – which is said to be twice as transmissible as conventional coronavirus strains.

Since its presence in California was confirmed in April, Delta has quickly become the dominant strain in the state, accounting for 48.8% of all cases analyzed in June.

While officials note that the available COVID-19 vaccines appear to remain highly effective against the Delta variant, concern is that it could easily spread among those who are not vaccinated or have not yet completed their two-person regimen. doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

“Fully vaccinated people are well protected against serious infections and illnesses from COVID-19, including the Delta variants. Vaccinating as many people as possible, as soon as possible, continues to be our best defense against a serious infection with COVID-19 and the damage it can do to our area, ”officials from the counties of Monterey, Napa wrote, San Benito and Santa Cruz. a joint statement on Monday.

Despite California’s relative success on the vaccination front, millions of people remain vulnerable. Overall, 60% of Californians have received at least one dose to date, and about 52% are fully vaccinated, according to data from The Times.

However, immunization coverage varies considerably from community to community. Seven counties, for example, have partially immunized more than 70% of their residents. But in eight others, less than 40% of residents received at least one dose.

The hope is that measures such as accelerated masking will help curb the transmission of coronaviruses before stricter measures become necessary. But the best way to avoid this, officials say, is for more people to roll up their sleeves.

“If we want to end this pandemic once and for all, if we want to turn the page, we can do it in weeks, not months,” Governor Gavin Newsom told reporters on Monday. “It’s that simple: if you are not vaccinated, get vaccinated. “

Times writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

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