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New CA Mask Guidelines Issued. What Do They Mean for Alameda?

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Due to the recent rapid proliferation of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, new masking guidelines went into effect today for the State of California. These guidelines closely match the latest order from the Alameda County Health Officer, No. 21-06, so Alameda residents may not notice much difference.

The state Masking Guidelines explain that the new requirements bring an added layer of mitigation as the Omicron variant is likely to spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant. Additionally, the new requirements bring additional protection to individuals, families and communities during the holidays when more travel occurs, and time is spent indoors.

According to Alameda County’s COVID-19 website, as with the State mask guidelines, everyone must continue to wear masks:

  • On planes, trains, buses, ferries, taxis and ride-shares, and all other forms of public transport.
  • In transportation hubs like airports, bus terminals, train stations, marinas, seaports or other ports,
    subway stations, or any other area that provides transportation.
  • Healthcare settings.
  • State and local correctional facilities and detention centers.
  • Shelters and cooling centers.
  • Indoors at any youth-serving facility (such as K-12 schools, childcare, day camps, etc.).
Alameda Post - COVID-19 Omicron variant
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has led to new masking guidelines in California. Illustration from pixabay.com.

However, for fully vaccinated people in Alameda County, as well as San Francisco, Marin, and Contra Costa Counties, masking requirements have been eased in controlled spaces not open to the general public, including:

  • Offices.
  • Gyms and fitness centers.
  • Employee commuter vehicles.
  • Organized gatherings in other indoor settings where a group gathers on a regular basis, like religious gatherings.

Proof of vaccination and identification are required before people will be allowed to remove their masks in these spaces.

The county states, “Unvaccinated and not fully vaccinated people are strongly encouraged to wear a mask in outdoor crowded settings, especially if you don’t know the vaccination status of those around you. Everyone is strongly encouraged to wear a mask in non-public indoor settings, like a private residence, when you are around people who may be unvaccinated.

While fully vaccinated people are well-protected from severe illness due to variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, they may get asymptomatic or mild infections. To protect everyone, wear a mask to help slow the spread of the virus.”

According to the CA Department of Health, statewide exemptions from wearing masks at all times include:

  • Persons younger than two years old. Very young children must not wear a mask because of the risk of suffocation.
  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a mask could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance.
  • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

Additionally, exceptions to the universal masking requirements apply in the following circumstances in specified settings:

  • Masks may be removed while actively eating or drinking.
  • Persons who are working alone in a closed office or room.
  • Persons who are actively performing at indoor live or recorded settings or events such as music, acting, or singing. If performers do not wear a mask indoors while performing, CDPH strongly recommends that individuals undergo screening testing at least once weekly. An FDA-approved antigen test, PCR test, or pooled PCR test is acceptable for evaluation of an individual’s COVID-19 status.
  • Persons who are obtaining a medical or cosmetic service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the services.
  • Workers who wear respiratory protection, per CalOSHA requirements.
  • Persons who are specifically exempted from wearing masks by other CDPH guidance.

The City of Alameda recently issued a statement on cases of the Omicron variant, but has not altered its  mask policy. COVID-19 information for the City of Alameda is regularly updated on the City’s website.

What will it take to lift indoor mask requirements?

Alameda County has outlined several conditions needed before indoor masking requirements will be lifted:

  • The county reaches the moderate (yellow) COVID-19 transmission tier, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and remains there for at least three weeks; AND
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county are low and stable, in the judgment of the health officer; AND
  • 80% of the county’s total population is fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson (booster doses not considered) OR Eight weeks have passed since a COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by federal and state authorities for 5- to 11-year-olds.

The county has provided a dashboard to monitor the metrics required for compliance.

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