COVID-19 safety notice
Many public buildings and businesses still require people to wear masks inside, and county health officials are encouraging the practice as the Delta variant spreads. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

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The rapid rise of Omicron has led Alameda County and Berkeley health officials to order residents to wear masks whenever they are anywhere indoors in a public setting, including offices, gyms, and houses of worship.

The new rules, which go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 30, will not impact the face masking requirements for school and youth settings, according to a press release sent out today.

“The Omicron variant requires us to use all the tools at hand to reduce the chance of transmission,” said Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez, the city of Berkeley Health Officer. “Masks are more important than ever to minimize the spread of COVID to our most medically vulnerable community members.”

Previously, Alameda County and Berkeley had required people only to wear face coverings in grocery stores, shops, restaurants and bars, theaters, concert settings, and government offices. When the state of California tightened mask-wearing requirements on Dec. 15, Alameda County and Berkeley stuck to their own local rules, which did not include requiring masks in private offices, gyms, and houses of worship.

People may still remove their masks indoors while eating or drinking.

The rise of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 has pushed Berkeley’s local daily case rate to 23.3 per 100,000 residents and that number is expected to rise, according to the press release. Community transmission in Berkeley is now categorized as “high” on the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker.

Just two weeks ago, Berkeley’s 7-day positivity rate: 0.96%.  Fully 91% of Berkeley residents are fully vaccinated and 41% have gotten a booster dose, according to the city.

In Alameda County, the local daily case rate as of Dec. 25 was 87.36 per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC’s Covid tracker. The community transmission rate was categorized as “substantial.” The numbers have probably gone up since then.

Just over 79% of Alameda County residents and 76.5% of Oakland residents are fully vaccinated, according to the county health department. Roughly 42% of residents countywide have also gotten a booster.

Health officials recommend that everyone who is eligible get vaccinated and boosted since the shots provide protection from serious illness and will keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

“Omicron may be more transmissible, but we have the tools to prevent infection,” said Dr. Nicholas Moss, the Alameda County health officer. “Because even a mild infection in a vaccinated person may be passed on to someone who could become hospitalized, we must take every precaution this winter.”

Alameda County and Berkeley health officials recommend:

If you haven’t already done so:

  • Get vaccinated and boosted
  • Stay home if positive, symptomatic, or unvaccinated/not boosted and exposed
  • Wear a mask in all indoor settings.
  • Get tested if exposed, symptomatic, and before and after gathering and traveling.
  • Avoid large or crowded and poorly ventilated settings. You can improve ventilation by opening doors and windows.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.