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San Francisco reinstates indoor mask requirements amid omicron spike

San Francisco officials Wednesday announced changes to The City’s public health order due to the rise in Covid-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, including temporarily suspending certain indoor mask exemptions.

Indoor mask requirements are being temporarily reinstated for specific indoor settings, starting Dec. 30, 2021 until Jan. 31, 2022. The City had allowed the public to take off their masks in settings where 100 percent of people are vaccinated, including gyms, offices and religious gatherings.

The California Department of Public Health had issued a universal indoor masking mandate on Dec. 14, but exempted The City and several other counties with masking policies already in place. Many counties that were exempted have already announced they are now following the state’s indoor mask requirement, including Contra Costa and Marin.

San Francisco’s Public Health Officer Susan Philip said in a statement:

We know that our focus in this omicron surge must be on reducing hospitalizations and maintaining our capacity to care for San Franciscans, and these measures will help ensure this. We do not want to wait until it’s too late to implement these measures to better protect our community.”

The City continues to see a spike in cases because of the new variant. Data from the health department shows The City’s seven-day average new cases per day is at 398 as of Dec. 21 — surpassing last winter’s peak of 373.

Officials said cases are rising three times faster compared to the summer surge that was caused by the delta variant. Cases are expected to continue to rapidly increase.

As of Dec. 25, 41 people are in the hospital with the virus. The figure is still low compared to last winter, but officials said the rate of hospitalizations is starting to increase.

City officials said they will align with the state’s requirement that requires workers in healthcare or high-risk settings to get a booster dose by February 1, 2022.

There will be changes for indoor mega events starting next year with 1,000 or more people.

Beginning February 1, hosts and operators of indoor mega events are required to verify proof of “up-to-date” vaccinations. Up-to-date vaccination status includes having received a booster dose at least one week prior to the event for patrons and staff attending the event.

There were no major changes to schools in the health order, but the order recommends teachers, staff and administrators be up-to-date on vaccination. The order will provide updates requiring participants to wear a mask during youth indoor sports activities through Jan. 31, 2022.

Mayor London Breed said in a statement:

We will continue to focus on taking the steps necessary to deal with this latest surge of cases, while also keeping our businesses open and keeping our kids in school, which is so important for our young people and their families. Do your part and get yourself and your family boosted so we can all continue to protect each other in the weeks and months ahead.”

In addition to the local health order update, city officials said they will align with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation on isolation and quarantine. Anyone who tests positive for the virus but is not experiencing symptoms, are recommended to isolate for five days instead of the previous recommendation of 10 days.

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