Alameda County, California, is reintroducing mask requirements indoors

Alameda County, the second most populous county in the San Francisco Bay Area, on Friday reinstated a mask mandate at most indoor locations that it dropped in February.

Officials pointed to growing hospitalizations in Alameda, whose county seat is Oakland, which have risen about 35 percent over the past two weeks to a daily average of 129 on Thursday, according to federal data. Nationwide, about 28,000 people were currently in hospitals with the coronavirus, a 17 percent increase over the past two weeks.

Alameda is the first county in California and the largest jurisdiction in the United States to enact a universal indoor mask ordinance since the omicron surge ended last winter.

Further south, the Los Angeles County director of public health said Thursday that an indoor mask mandate could be reinstated later this month if cases continue to rise. In April, Philadelphia became the first major American city to reintroduce an indoor mask mandate in response to rising coronavirus cases, but it was dropped after a few days.

“Daily admissions of patients with Covid-19 have increased rapidly in recent days and are now exceeding the peak seen last summer,” the Alameda County Public Health Department said in a statement Thursday announcing the new rules.

The order requires masks to be worn indoors and in workplaces, including offices, shops, theaters and conference centers; in restaurants and bars when not eating or drinking; and on public transport, including taxis and ride-sharing services.

The eastern Bay Area county of 1.6 million does not mandate masking in schools as the school year is in its final days, and the order does not apply to Berkeley, which has its own health department.

“Rising Covid cases in Alameda County are now leading to more people being hospitalized and today’s action reflects the seriousness of the moment,” said Dr. Nicholas Moss, the county health officer, in the statement.

“We cannot ignore the data and we cannot predict when this wave will end,” he said. “Putting our masks back on will give us the best opportunity to limit the impact of an ongoing wave on our communities.”

Oakland International Airport will also require everyone two and older must wear masks indoors from Friday. In April, a federal judge in Florida lifted a mask requirement for public transportation that also applied to airports, train stations and other transportation hubs. The country’s largest airlines eliminated mandatory masks on flights, ending a practice most airlines had followed for almost two years.

There has not been a widespread return to mandates in California, although some schools and universities have reintroduced them. The Sacramento City Unified School District is mandating masks for all staff and students starting Monday. UCLA resumed indoor masking last week, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo did the same on Tuesday.

In Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous county with a population of about 10 million, Barbara Ferrer, the director of public health, said, said Thursday that a mask mandate could return “if we continue on the current course”. Hospital admissions are rising there even faster than in Alameda, averaging about 400 a day as of Thursday, up 62 percent over the past two weeks, according to federal data.

Alain Delaqueriere contributed research.

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