State to extend indoor mask mandate through Feb. 15 amid omicron wave

Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency Dr. Mark Ghaly speaks about the booster shot for COVID-19 at Native American Health Center in Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 22, 2021. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

California will extend its indoor mask mandate through at least Feb. 15 due to the state’s wave of COVID-19 cases tied to the omicron variant, one of the state’s top health officials said Wednesday.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the ongoing omicron wave has made state officials concerned about hospitals hitting their capacity limits in the coming weeks.

Around this time last year, some 53,000 people across the state were hospitalized with COVID-19 and other ailments, Ghaly said. As of Wednesday, some 51,000 people are currently hospitalized, including roughly 8,000 people for COVID-19.

“The hospitals are doing what they’re supposed to do,” Ghaly said. “They’re doing the terrific job that they’ve done for California all along, delivering care, but we are concerned about the level of admission.”

The state issued the mandate last month, with an initial end date of Jan. 15.

Ghaly did not give a certain number of hospitalizations to which the state would have to decline to rescind the statewide mandate, saying that health officials will monitor how quickly the virus is spreading in determining when to list the mandate, even if hospitalizations are still relatively high at that time.

He added that the state has no plans at this time to reimplement business and school limitations and closures as it did during last winter’s surge in cases.

“In-person education is a high priority,” Ghaly said. “We believe it’s the way kids learn best and we are taking as many steps as we can … to make sure that schools are set up for success both on the health and the learning side.”

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