California is, once again, ordering a statewide mask mandate for all indoor public spaces, starting Wednesday. The order comes amid signs of a winter surge in COVID-19, with the number of new coronavirus cases spiking by about 50 percent over the last two weeks..
The order will remain in place until Jan. 15, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“We know people are tired and hungry for normalcy. Frankly, I am too,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Monday. “That said, this is a critical time where we have a tool that we know has worked and can work.”
The statewide mask mandate was lifted in June. But wide swatches of the state such as Los Angeles and San Francisco instituted their own indoor mask mandates months ago. Monday’s order affects half of the state’s population living in places such as Orange County, where masks have been optional since June 15.
State officials on Monday were unclear about whether it would be enforced. Ghaly said enforcement would likely be stronger in some places than others, but he urged Californians to heed the warnings and wear masks.
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“We know that t here’s going to be people who don’t necessarily agree with this, who are tired, who aren’t going to mask,” Ghaly said. “We hope that those are few and far between, that most people see the purpose of doing this over the next month as something to protect them and their communities during a very tough time.”
The risk of coronavirus transmission is currently high in California, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s one of several states that have reported community transmission of the contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Even as coronavirus cases dropped to low levels across parts of the state in the summer, other places such as the Central Valley saw their hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. It’s a fate health officials are hoping to avoid statewide.