CalHHS Secretary Extends Mask Mandate to Mid-February

Mark Ghaly, M.D., MPH, California Health & Human Services Agency (CalHHS) secretary, has extended California’s indoor mask mandate by another full month. The masking requirement intended to combat the coronavirus pandemic now runs through February 15.

While citing a recent surge in the state’s positivity rate to over 21 percent, Ghaly also noted data on the omicron variant of the virus is incomplete; in particular, how many recently admitted patients were hospitalized for COVID compared to those admitted for different medical conditions, but who incidentally have COVID. As of Tuesday, around two-thirds of COVID-positive patients at hospitals run by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Services were admitted for something other than coronavirus, according to CalMatters. Marin County hospitals reported its incidental COVID cases were at least 42 percent.

The distinction between these two types of patients is significant, according to Dr. Ghaly, because it helps his agency manage staffing challenges within some hospitals, and also project out the need for additional intensive care unit capacity. Due to the unavailability of healthcare employees who have tested positive for the virus, some hospital departments are operating at half-capacity and others are postponing elective surgeries. According to Ghaly, the state has brought in more than 1,800 healthcare staff from out of state to ease the strain at 150 healthcare facilities and may bring in more.

The effects of the situation are being felt in other sectors as well, with Governor Gavin Newsom issuing an executive order this week allowing state agencies to return to holding virtual meetings, courtrooms temporarily suspending jury trials, and some restaurants going dark. Notably, the extended mask mandate now runs through the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for February 13 in Los Angeles.