California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced on Wednesday that the statewide indoor mask mandate, set to end on January 15th, has been extended for another month.
Last month, due to concern over the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Governor Gavin Newson and Dr. Ghaly reinstated the indoor mask mandate in California. While put in place to help reduce the spread of the virus, many businesses were hurt economically in the process, with many recalling the difficulties they faced with the first mandate in 2020 and early 2021.
However, the explosion of COVID cases in California has exploded since mid-December, with new daily cases reaching record-high numbers, topping even the previous record highs of new cases during the winter surge last year.
Dr. Ghaly reported on Wednesday hospitalizations are also facing record number, with that around 51,000 currently at hospitals due to COVID-19 – only 2,000 away from the record amount this time in January of 2021.
With worries about additional shutdowns, strains on hospitals, and eligible people still not receiving vaccines or vaccine boosters, Ghaly extended the indoor mask mandate on Wednesday.
“Omicron is here and it’s here now,” Dr. Ghaly said during conference call with the media. “At that time, we will again reevaluate the condition across California, our communities and our health-care delivery settings to make sure that we are taking the latest information into account to determine if there would be another extension, or if we’re prepared to lift that requirement across the state.”
“In California we have admitted more patients on a day-to-day basis over the last few days than we did even at the peak of last winter’s surge. A lot of people are not being admitted to the ICU and many have other underlying conditions.”
According to California’s COVID Dashboard, the state is now averaging over 28,000 new cases a day, with Los Angeles County alone sometimes reaching 20,000 new cases a day, representing the vast majority of new cases. Test positivity has also gone drastically up, now at around 21.3%.
While health officials were largely in favor of the mandates returning on Wednesday, especially with many people now having both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time in what has been dubbed “flurona”, many business leaders expressed concern at another month of masks.
“We want customers and employees all to remain safe, but another month of masks means another month of decreased income,” explained Sally Fraser, a manager of three office parks and strip malls in LA County, to the Globe on Wednesday. “We lost several companies last year, and with the new mandates, we have many asking us how much longer they will be in place because they need to know if they will survive this year.”
“One of our bigger tenants moved here from Tennessee last year, and they’ve set up as much as possible outside to avoid the masks.”
“This is hurting everyone. We’re losing tenants because of this, businesses are getting less money, and customers are resorting to alternate businesses or places to go. It’s hurting everyone.”
As of Wednesday, the new mandate is now extended to at least mid-February, with a further extension to be evaluated by state officials a month from now.
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