Bay Area counties urge vaccinated people to wear masks again as delta variant tightens grip

Health

San Francisco Chronicle 16 July, 2021 - 01:38pm 37 views

8 Bay Area Health Officers Recommend Wearing Masks Indoors

Patch.com 16 July, 2021 - 01:23pm

BAY AREA, CA — Health officers in seven Bay Area counties plus Berkeley recommended Friday that all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors as COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties joined Berkeley in the new guidelines as the highly transmissible delta variant becomes increasingly common. The announcement came a day after Los Angeles County mandated masks indoors for all as it grappled with an uptick in cases statewide.

The variant comprised four in 10 COVID-19 specimens sequenced in California as of June and was responsible for six in 10 new infections nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wearing masks in places such as stores and movie theaters will "ensure easy verification that all unvaccinated people are masked in those settings and as an extra precautionary measure for all," the health officers said in a joint statement.

Well-fitting masks should completely cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly around the nose and sides of the face.

Officials urged businesses to enact masking requirements for all customers entering an indoor business to protect workers and customers. Fully vaccinated employees were encouraged to wear masks, per state guidelines.

Officials continued to urge people to get fully vaccinated, as research indicated that all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States are effective in preventing infection and serious illness.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. People with one dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are not fully protected.

Bay Area health officers said they will revisit the recommendation and continue to monitor COVID-19 related transmission rates, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccination rates.

Bay Area health officers recommend masks indoors for all

The Mercury News 16 July, 2021 - 01:11pm

Bay Area health officers Friday recommended that face masks be worn in public indoor places by everyone regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated, walking back freedom that had been granted to the inoculated just a month ago amid alarm over a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases chiefly among the unvaccinated.

With cases of COVID-19 rising locally and increased circulation of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, and the city of Berkeley recommend that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in public places to ensure easy verification that all unvaccinated people are masked in those settings and as an extra precautionary measure for all.

Santa Clara County Assistant Health Officer Dr. Sarah Rudman said Friday that despite the Bay Area’s high vaccination rates, COVID-19 infection rates have tripled in the last three weeks, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.

“We are seeing a similar rise in case rates across the Bay Area and California,” Rudman said. “That is why Santa Clara County is joining other bay area health departments making this recommendation.”

The move by Bay Area health officers comes a day after Sacramento County announced it would join Yolo County in a similar recommendation for everyone to wear masks indoors in public, and Los Angeles became the first county to make that an order starting Saturday.

“The Delta variant is spreading quickly, and everyone should take action to protect themselves and others against this potentially deadly virus,” said Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss.

But Rudman said the Bay Area health officers did not yet see a need to reimpose a mask requirement like Los Angeles, given the high vaccination rates in the region. The recommendation, she said, would help provide additional protection for those who remain unvaccinated, including children under age 12 who aren’t yet eligible, and time for those just getting vaccinated now.

The most widely used vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna require a two-dose regimen three to four weeks apart, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose. A person is considered fully immunized two weeks after the final vaccine dose, so those just receiving their first Moderna shot won’t be protected for six weeks.

The health officers are urging businesses to adopt universal masking requirements for customers entering indoor areas of their businesses to provide better protection to their employees and customers. Workplaces must comply with Cal/OSHA requirements and fully vaccinated employees are encouraged to wear masks indoors if their employer has not confirmed the vaccination status of those around them.

“We are asking our residents to collectively come together again in this effort to stem the rising cases until we can assess how our hospital capacity will be impacted,” said San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip.

State public health orders continue to require the unvaccinated to wear face masks in indoor public places, including stores, malls, movie theaters, museums, places of worship and workplaces.

Masks remain optional outdoors for everyone, vaccinated or not, where air circulation makes transmission of the virus much less likely, though in areas with high infection rates, the unvaccinated are advised to wear masks in crowded public areas where they cannot keep a distance from others.

The recommendation comes just a month after California adopted U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance in mid-May that those who are vaccinated may go without masks in most indoor places, with exceptions for public transportation, schools, health care, correctional and shelter facilities. California was among the last states to adopt that guidance.

But surging COVID-19 cases driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus that emerged in India in the spring have led a number of health experts to urge the CDC to reconsider.

“Public health officials made a mistake by removing behavioral measures before achieving enough vaccination for herd immunity vs. the more contagious Delta,” Dr. Michael Lin, an associate professor of neurobiology and bioengineering at Stanford University, said July 10 on Twitter. “Masking indoors, limiting capacity of people indoors when masking is not possible, testing and contact tracing. They’re inconvenient, but places with the political will to implement them would be wise to do so.”

It was unclear Friday how long the Bay Area indoor mask recommendation for all may last. Rudman said that there was no vaccination level target that would lead to easing the recommendation.

“I think we won’t know what the target vaccination rate will be that will allow us to not need these additional measures, especially as the variants evolve,” Rudman said.

Check back for updates on this breaking story.

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Bay Area counties recommend indoor mask wearing, even if vaccinated

KGO-TV 16 July, 2021 - 01:05pm

Bay Area counties recommend indoor mask wearing, even if vaccinated

Bidding wars and ‘meaningless’ list prices: Buying a house in the Bay Area

NBC News 16 July, 2021 - 04:59am

“I was relieved,” he said of winning his sixth bidding war with a $2 million offer. “But part of me was worrying whether we overpaid.”

Mo, who grew up in the Bay Area and developed a savings plan in his early 20s, has continued to track real estate prices in his new neighborhood and was reassured to see that some nearby homes have recently sold for more than $500,000 over list price.

“It’s outrageous,” he said. “But it was a relief to know that even if I moved away now, I might even make a profit.” Mo is aware that he’s in a fortunate position, financially.

“Without our tech salaries it would be fairly impossible to buy a home. I look at some of my friends who grew up locally with parents who ran small businesses and could make it out here,” he said. “Unfortunately that’s not possible out here anymore.”

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been one of the most expensive property markets in the United States, with single family homes selling for about three times the national average. That’s thanks to zoning laws that restrict construction combined with the expanding population of highly paid workers in Silicon Valley’s burgeoning technology industry. As a result, the region has one of the nation’s lowest rates of home ownership, according to census data, and purchasing any property at all has become a challenge even for the moneyed elite.

Even though some tech workers have been fleeing the Bay Area during the pandemic, those who reaped the benefits of their companies’ record profits in that time helped drive up the prices of homes, particularly in the suburbs, to a record high. Median prices for single family homes across nine counties rose to $1.34 million in May, up from $965,0000 in May 2020 — a 38.9 percent increase year over year — according to data released by the California Association of Realtors. The median sale price of a home in the United States was $347,000 in the first three months of 2021, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Properties, particularly single family homes in the suburbs around San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, are selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars over list price in super-competitive bidding wars, with all-cash offers and some buyers waiving contingencies.

“It’s a myth that millions of people are moving away and that overall demand is plummeting,” said Jeff Tucker, chief economist at the property marketplace Zillow. “It’s more of a rearrangement of demand in the region that is reflective of broader forces affecting the U.S. housing market.”

Throughout the pandemic, workers across the United States have been moving out of major downtown employment centers in favor of more space in suburban neighborhoods, and the Bay Area is a microcosm of that trend, he said.

“Bay Area employers have been disproportionately likely, compared to other major cities, to send everyone to work from home until now and potentially well out to the future,” Tucker said. “So proximity to the office goes from being a very valuable characteristic for a home to being virtually useless, while the utility of a spare bedroom to be used as an office has become much more valuable.”

Among the hottest markets in the region was Contra Costa county in the East Bay, which includes cities such as Orinda, Walnut Creek and El Cerrito. Median house prices there rose by 47.1 percent. Prices in Alameda County, which includes Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro, rose by 37.4 percent.

These rising prices have contributed to rising homelessness and a desperate shortage of affordable housing. According to a report published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in March, the Bay Area needs more than 160,000 additional homes to house its poorest residents. For every 100 extremely low-income households, there are only 35 affordable units in the combined area of San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo and Marin counties, according to the report.

Todd David, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing in the Bay Area, said that the current market reminds him of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and the market just before the global financial crisis.

“We have a critical housing shortage in the Bay Area at all levels of affordability,” he said. “What you are seeing is the result of people competing for a limited commodity.”

The lack of supply is, he added, partly due to zoning laws, which limit the construction of multifamily housing such as apartments and condos, but also the lack of political will to change those laws.

“In a lot of the Bay Area, the only type of residential structure that is permitted is a detached, single family household,” said Nicholas Marantz, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Irvine. Those types of residences don’t provide as much housing stock as taller, denser apartment buildings.

With so few houses available, the ones that do end up for sale are often flooded with bids.

“The pandemic shone a light on existing inequities of the housing market,” David said.

That lack of supply combined with the uptick in competition for properties has pushed middle-income families, which David defines as those households earning $85,000-$150,000, out of the neighborhoods they grew up in or, in some cases, into homelessness, he said.

“These are teachers, firefighters, EMTs and nurses,” he said. “For them we need zoning reform, streamlining the approval process on new housing construction and political will.”

“Unfortunately our elected leaders choose policies that the wealthy single-family homeowners want, to keep their neighborhoods as restrictive enclaves,” he added.

Some cities in the Bay Area have taken steps to reform their zoning laws, David said. In March, Berkeley — the birthplace of single family zoning in the United States — voted to allow for the construction of more affordable housing such as apartments and condos in places where previously only houses were allowed. City Council members who unanimously voted for the zoning change said it would help address issues of racial exclusion.

The cities of San Jose and Oakland have proposed similar zoning changes.

“The needle has been moving very slowly,” David said.

The Bay Area also has a long history of underpricing homes to fuel interest and competition among buyers, experts say. “Sellers don’t know what their home is going to sell for. So they price conservatively and let a bidding war happen to drive up the price,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at the real estate brokerage Redfin. “It used to be something we would only see in the Bay Area, Seattle or L.A., but now it’s happening across the county.”

According to numbers compiled by Zillow, almost two-thirds (62 percent) of homes for sale in the Bay Area sold for above the list price during the first quarter of 2021, up from 47 percent over the same period in 2020.

Bidding wars were particularly competitive in Alameda County, which includes the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. There, 71 percent of homes sold above list price in March, the latest month of data from Zillow available, and 14 percent of homes sold for more than 25 percent over asking price. Three percent of houses sold for $500,000 more than the asking price.

At the end of May, one three-bedroom home in Berkeley sold for $2.3 million — a full $1 million over the asking price — after receiving 29 offers in just 11 days.

Even San Francisco, where house sales remained relatively flat or fell during the pandemic, has started to see a reversal of that trend, with prices in May rising month over month by almost 6 percent.

In San Mateo county, which sits below San Francisco and is home to tech companies including Facebook and affluent neighborhoods such as Atherton and Saratoga, median house prices rose 25.8 percent over the year to more than $2 million.

“The income and wealth generated in the tech industry is a very unique factor in the Bay Area’s home prices,” Tucker said. “It’s undeniable that the extra compensation that goes to employees enables prices to rise as much as they have, to levels that seem unsustainable or impossible to observers from anywhere else in the country.”

He noted that technology companies thrived over the course of the pandemic, which supported their continued hiring, strong compensation and lack of layoffs for the existing workforce relative to other sectors.

Peter Yang, a 37-year-old product lead at Reddit, described the Bay Area housing market as “crazy.”

He and his wife were looking for a three- or four-bedroom home near a high performing public school in San Mateo county, initially focusing on houses listed for about $2.5-$2.8 million.

After months of house-hunting and getting outbid on two properties, they bought a house in Burlingame in June with a bid that was “$400-500,000” over their initial budget.

“My agent told me that an entry-level house in this area is $3 million,” he said, with an incredulous chuckle. “You can find a teardown or condo for less. But if you want a family home near high-performing schools, entry level is $3 million.”

He also is likely to incur an even greater cost because he and his wife both had to sell “a bunch” of tech stocks they were hoping to hold onto in order to pay for the house and as a result will have a “huge tax bill” next year.

The process was more intense and stressful than when he last bought a home five years ago, he said.

“You don’t have a lot of time to think through stuff. It felt like a land grab, with five buyers for every house and you have to make a decision within a week, so you just have to go for it,” he said.

In one case, the seller’s agent held a contest inviting potential buyers to guess the price that the house, listed at $2.5 million, would sell for. The prize? A $250 Amazon gift card.

Yang correctly guessed it would go for about $2.8 million. He won the gift card but lost out on the house to an all-cash offer.

The current market also inevitably prices out many of the essential workers that cities like San Francisco need most. Jason Harrison, a 42-year-old emergency room nurse at UCSF Health, a hospital in San Francisco, had been renting in Oakland for five years before deciding to buy. When he started properly looking with his wife, Shawn, a user-experience product designer, in March, he was shocked by how much homes were selling for.

The first house he liked was listed at $800,000. He and his wife offered $1.025 million. But the house sold for $1.25 million — $450,000 more than the owners had initially asked for.

“We soon learned that the list price was completely meaningless,” he said.

Harrison eventually saw 25 to 30 houses and made two failed offers before finally having his offer accepted on a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on a large lot in East Oakland in early June.

“I dropped my phone and hugged my co-worker when I got the call from our realtor,” he said. “Partly because the process was over and partly because we were starting to lose hope hearing about how much over list price homes were going for. I thought this was the beginning of the end for the mid-range American home buyer.”

While the pandemic did not seem to lower prices in the Bay Area, it did let high prices trickle into other markets. While much of the movement in the Bay Area has been people leaving cities for more space in the suburbs, a significant chunk of people traveled farther afield, taking their generous tech salaries with them. Although this migration did little to cool the Bay Area’s housing market, it does seem to be driving up house prices in the destination cities, according to Fairweather.

House prices in Austin, Texas, one of the top destination cities for tech workers leaving San Francisco, have increased by 40 percent since last year, according to Redfin data.

“People from outside of Austin, particularly San Francisco, have budgets that are 30 percent higher than the people who are local to Austin,”Fairweather said. “So it makes a much bigger impact.”

They helped create California's unattainable housing market. Now they can't afford to buy.

Yahoo News 16 July, 2021 - 04:59am

“I was relieved,” he said of winning his sixth bidding war with a $2 million offer. “But part of me was worrying whether we overpaid.”

Mo, who grew up in the Bay Area and developed a savings plan in his early 20s, has continued to track real estate prices in his new neighborhood and was reassured to see that some nearby homes have recently sold for more than $500,000 over list price.

“It’s outrageous,” he said. “But it was a relief to know that even if I moved away now, I might even make a profit.” Mo is aware that he’s in a fortunate position, financially.

“Without our tech salaries it would be fairly impossible to buy a home. I look at some of my friends who grew up locally with parents who ran small businesses and could make it out here,” he said. “Unfortunately that’s not possible out here anymore.”

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been one of the most expensive property markets in the United States, with single family homes selling for about three times the national average. That’s thanks to zoning laws that restrict construction combined with the expanding population of highly paid workers in Silicon Valley’s burgeoning technology industry. As a result, the region has one of the nation’s lowest rates of home ownership, according to census data, and purchasing any property at all has become a challenge even for the moneyed elite.

Even though some tech workers have been fleeing the Bay Area during the pandemic, those who reaped the benefits of their companies’ record profits in that time helped drive up the prices of homes, particularly in the suburbs, to a record high. Median prices for single family homes across nine counties rose to $1.34 million in May, up from $965,0000 in May 2020 — a 38.9 percent increase year over year — according to data released by the California Association of Realtors. The median sale price of a home in the United States was $347,000 in the first three months of 2021, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Properties, particularly single family homes in the suburbs around San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, are selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars over list price in super-competitive bidding wars, with all-cash offers and some buyers waiving contingencies.

“It’s a myth that millions of people are moving away and that overall demand is plummeting,” said Jeff Tucker, chief economist at the property marketplace Zillow. “It’s more of a rearrangement of demand in the region that is reflective of broader forces affecting the U.S. housing market.”

Throughout the pandemic, workers across the United States have been moving out of major downtown employment centers in favor of more space in suburban neighborhoods, and the Bay Area is a microcosm of that trend, he said.

“Bay Area employers have been disproportionately likely, compared to other major cities, to send everyone to work from home until now and potentially well out to the future,” Tucker said. “So proximity to the office goes from being a very valuable characteristic for a home to being virtually useless, while the utility of a spare bedroom to be used as an office has become much more valuable.”

Among the hottest markets in the region was Contra Costa county in the East Bay, which includes cities such as Orinda, Walnut Creek and El Cerrito. Median house prices there rose by 47.1 percent. Prices in Alameda County, which includes Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro, rose by 37.4 percent.

These rising prices have contributed to rising homelessness and a desperate shortage of affordable housing. According to a report published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in March, the Bay Area needs more than 160,000 additional homes to house its poorest residents. For every 100 extremely low-income households, there are only 35 affordable units in the combined area of San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo and Marin counties, according to the report.

Todd David, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing in the Bay Area, said that the current market reminds him of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and the market just before the global financial crisis.

“We have a critical housing shortage in the Bay Area at all levels of affordability,” he said. “What you are seeing is the result of people competing for a limited commodity.”

The lack of supply is, he added, partly due to zoning laws, which limit the construction of multifamily housing such as apartments and condos, but also the lack of political will to change those laws.

“In a lot of the Bay Area, the only type of residential structure that is permitted is a detached, single family household,” said Nicholas Marantz, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Irvine. Those types of residences don’t provide as much housing stock as taller, denser apartment buildings.

With so few houses available, the ones that do end up for sale are often flooded with bids.

“The pandemic shone a light on existing inequities of the housing market,” David said.

That lack of supply combined with the uptick in competition for properties has pushed middle-income families, which David defines as those households earning $85,000-$150,000, out of the neighborhoods they grew up in or, in some cases, into homelessness, he said.

“These are teachers, firefighters, EMTs and nurses,” he said. “For them we need zoning reform, streamlining the approval process on new housing construction and political will.”

“Unfortunately our elected leaders choose policies that the wealthy single-family homeowners want, to keep their neighborhoods as restrictive enclaves,” he added.

Some cities in the Bay Area have taken steps to reform their zoning laws, David said. In March, Berkeley — the birthplace of single family zoning in the United States — voted to allow for the construction of more affordable housing such as apartments and condos in places where previously only houses were allowed. City Council members who unanimously voted for the zoning change said it would help address issues of racial exclusion.

The cities of San Jose and Oakland have proposed similar zoning changes.

“The needle has been moving very slowly,” David said.

The Bay Area also has a long history of underpricing homes to fuel interest and competition among buyers, experts say. “Sellers don’t know what their home is going to sell for. So they price conservatively and let a bidding war happen to drive up the price,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at the real estate brokerage Redfin. “It used to be something we would only see in the Bay Area, Seattle or L.A., but now it’s happening across the county.”

According to numbers compiled by Zillow, almost two-thirds (62 percent) of homes for sale in the Bay Area sold for above the list price during the first quarter of 2021, up from 47 percent over the same period in 2020.

Bidding wars were particularly competitive in Alameda County, which includes the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. There, 71 percent of homes sold above list price in March, the latest month of data from Zillow available, and 14 percent of homes sold for more than 25 percent over asking price. Three percent of houses sold for $500,000 more than the asking price.

At the end of May, one three-bedroom home in Berkeley sold for $2.3 million — a full $1 million over the asking price — after receiving 29 offers in just 11 days.

Even San Francisco, where house sales remained relatively flat or fell during the pandemic, has started to see a reversal of that trend, with prices in May rising month over month by almost 6 percent.

In San Mateo county, which sits below San Francisco and is home to tech companies including Facebook and affluent neighborhoods such as Atherton and Saratoga, median house prices rose 25.8 percent over the year to more than $2 million.

“The income and wealth generated in the tech industry is a very unique factor in the Bay Area’s home prices,” Tucker said. “It’s undeniable that the extra compensation that goes to employees enables prices to rise as much as they have, to levels that seem unsustainable or impossible to observers from anywhere else in the country.”

He noted that technology companies thrived over the course of the pandemic, which supported their continued hiring, strong compensation and lack of layoffs for the existing workforce relative to other sectors.

Peter Yang, a 37-year-old product lead at Reddit, described the Bay Area housing market as “crazy.”

He and his wife were looking for a three- or four-bedroom home near a high performing public school in San Mateo county, initially focusing on houses listed for about $2.5-$2.8 million.

After months of house-hunting and getting outbid on two properties, they bought a house in Burlingame in June with a bid that was “$400-500,000” over their initial budget.

“My agent told me that an entry-level house in this area is $3 million,” he said, with an incredulous chuckle. “You can find a teardown or condo for less. But if you want a family home near high-performing schools, entry level is $3 million.”

He also is likely to incur an even greater cost because he and his wife both had to sell “a bunch” of tech stocks they were hoping to hold onto in order to pay for the house and as a result will have a “huge tax bill” next year.

The process was more intense and stressful than when he last bought a home five years ago, he said.

“You don’t have a lot of time to think through stuff. It felt like a land grab, with five buyers for every house and you have to make a decision within a week, so you just have to go for it,” he said.

In one case, the seller’s agent held a contest inviting potential buyers to guess the price that the house, listed at $2.5 million, would sell for. The prize? A $250 Amazon gift card.

Yang correctly guessed it would go for about $2.8 million. He won the gift card but lost out on the house to an all-cash offer.

The current market also inevitably prices out many of the essential workers that cities like San Francisco need most. Jason Harrison, a 42-year-old emergency room nurse at UCSF Health, a hospital in San Francisco, had been renting in Oakland for five years before deciding to buy. When he started properly looking with his wife, Shawn, a user-experience product designer, in March, he was shocked by how much homes were selling for.

The first house he liked was listed at $800,000. He and his wife offered $1.025 million. But the house sold for $1.25 million — $450,000 more than the owners had initially asked for.

“We soon learned that the list price was completely meaningless,” he said.

Harrison eventually saw 25 to 30 houses and made two failed offers before finally having his offer accepted on a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on a large lot in East Oakland in early June.

“I dropped my phone and hugged my co-worker when I got the call from our realtor,” he said. “Partly because the process was over and partly because we were starting to lose hope hearing about how much over list price homes were going for. I thought this was the beginning of the end for the mid-range American home buyer.”

While the pandemic did not seem to lower prices in the Bay Area, it did let high prices trickle into other markets. While much of the movement in the Bay Area has been people leaving cities for more space in the suburbs, a significant chunk of people traveled farther afield, taking their generous tech salaries with them. Although this migration did little to cool the Bay Area’s housing market, it does seem to be driving up house prices in the destination cities, according to Fairweather.

House prices in Austin, Texas, one of the top destination cities for tech workers leaving San Francisco, have increased by 40 percent since last year, according to Redfin data.

“People from outside of Austin, particularly San Francisco, have budgets that are 30 percent higher than the people who are local to Austin,”Fairweather said. “So it makes a much bigger impact.”

As Americans start packing bars and live venues once again in the age of mass COVID-19 vaccination -- with many abandoning masks and social distancing measures -- a concerning reality check is taking place. Health officials and front-line workers, particularly in pockets of the country with relatively low vaccination rates, are again warning the public that they are seeing an influx of unvaccinated patients who are becoming severely ill. The average number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions has also increased dramatically -- to nearly 2,800 admissions a day -- up by 35.8% in the last week.

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1 Bay Area city's economy may recover faster than rest of CA

Yahoo! Voices 15 July, 2021 - 09:54pm

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COVID: LA is mandating masks again. Is Bay Area next?

The Mercury News 15 July, 2021 - 06:26pm

The steep and steady rise in COVID-19 cases is spurring health officials throughout well-vaccinated California to walk back the mask freedom they granted the inoculated just a month ago and advise or order that they mask up indoors.

On Thursday, Los Angeles County became the first county in the state to order that masks be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status, starting Saturday.

Also on Thursday, Sacramento County joined Yolo County in recommending that everyone wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination — a step Los Angeles County health officials already had taken June 28. Several Bay Area counties including Alameda said Thursday they were strongly considering the same.

“While vaccination continues to be the best protection against severe COVID-19 infection, we are considering recommending masking indoors for everyone because it is a powerful tool that can help contain this more transmissible virus,” said Alameda County Public Health Department spokeswoman Neetu Balram.

On June 15 the state allowed people who are vaccinated to go without face coverings inside most public places, following federal health guidance from a month earlier. But that was before the Delta variant gained a foothold.

Balram said the Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading infections quickly. Reported new cases in Alameda County are averaging 110 per day, and the daily case rate is now 6.7 per 100,000 people and rising. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that the Delta variant is now responsible for 58% of new infections across the country. In June it comprised 43 percent of all California specimens that were “sequenced” for variant type.

In Los Angeles County, Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a briefing with reporters that “masking indoors must again become a normal practice by all, regardless of vaccination status, so they can stop the trends and level of transmission we’re currently seeing,” according to KTLA-TV. He cited an 83% increase in new cases.

Other Bay Area counties are closely watching case rates with an eye toward a similar recommendation or order.

“We are working closely with state health officials to understand the risks of the Delta variant,” the San Francisco Department of Public Health said in a statement Thursday.

“We know that it is present in the state and the Bay Area, and we continue to align with state guidance that states that people who are not yet fully vaccinated are required to wear masks indoors or at large outdoor events,” the San Francisco health department said. “Those who are vaccinated can choose to wear masks if they feel more comfortable doing so. We continue to follow emerging data and science and will adjust this approach to expand masking recommendations, if necessary.”

The about-face comes despite California and the affected counties boasting some of the higher vaccination rates in the country. Statewide, 60.2% of those 12 and older who are eligible are fully vaccinated in California, compared with 64.6% in New York, 58.9% in Pennsylvania, 54.4% in Florida and 51.2% in Texas.

In San Francisco, 76% of those who are eligible are fully vaccinated. Even so, local health experts are uneasy about the trajectory of new cases.

“We’re seeing a pretty steep COVID uptick,” Dr. Bob Wachter, who chairs the department of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, said Thursday on Twitter, even with the high vaccination rate and many people already continuing to wear masks inside stores. Daily cases, Wachter said, are up fourfold, and hospitalizations have doubled.

If you're wondering how bad Delta really is, even in highly vaccinated SF (76% of >age 12 fully vaxxed) & still w/ a lot of masking (most folks in stores), we're seeing a pretty steep Covid uptick. Daily cases up 4-fold (10->42; Fig L), hospital pts doubled (9->19; R)(Thread 1/4) pic.twitter.com/6JC2UlA0Sf

— Bob Wachter (@Bob_Wachter) July 15, 2021

Wachter noted that San Francisco’s cases “are still fairly low” and are “cause for caution, not panic.”

“But this kind of uptick” in highly vaccinated San Francisco, Wachter said, “shows that Delta is very real” and that places with much lower vaccination rates “may well get clobbered.” With more COVID-19 in the air, Wachter said people should expect more “breakthrough cases” among the inoculated. And he added that although he’s vaccinated, he’s “back to double-mask” wearing in stores and, though still dining indoors, “might abort if trends continue.”

Like San Francisco, other Bay Area counties said that while they are sticking with the statewide guidance allowing the vaccinated to go mask free indoors in most places if they choose, they are closely monitoring the situation and may revise their guidance.

“Our health officers are looking at case rate, hospitalization and death data and are considering if any changes in current recommendations might be helpful,” said Preston Merchant, spokesman for the San Mateo County public health department.

But Sacramento County health officials said that in less than a month, their daily case rate has risen drastically, from 3.8 on June 20 to 10 on July 14.

“The drastic increase in cases is concerning — as is the number of people choosing not to get vaccinated,” said Sacramento County Public Health Officer Olivia Kasirye. “Our best protection against COVID-19 continues to be the vaccine. We urge all eligible residents to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves, and their family and friends.”

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