Don't dump those masks just yet. The Monterey County Health Department announced today that Health Officer Edward Moreno is joining the health officers of Napa, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties in recommending that people wear a mask inside public settings and in crowded outdoor situations, even for those who are fully vaccinated.
The rise of the highly infectious delta variant triggering an increase in Covid-19 cases is the main driver of the decision. The variant was detected in 43 percent of all specimens that were gene sequenced in California in June, according to a Health Department press release. The Centers for Disease Control reports that delta is responsible for 58 percent of all new infections across the U.S.
Monterey County's case rate remains small at 2.2 cases per 100,000 residents but the cases have just slightly more than doubled since July 2, when the rate was 0.9 per 100,000.
Hospitalizations are also rising: After hitting a low of only one case on June 16, Monterey County now has 11 people hospitalized due to Covid with two in the ICU.
"Out of an abundance of caution, people are recommended to wear masks indoors in places like grocery or retail stores, theaters and family entertainment centers even if they are fully vaccinated," a press release announcing the recommendation states.
The officers stopped short of requiring masks indoors, a step that Los Angeles County took beginning at 11:59pm on Saturday, for all residents age 2 and up. State health officials so far are following CDC guidance that states vaccinated people need not wear masks indoors.
The health officers are urging businesses to adopt masking requirements for customers entering indoor areas of their businesses to provide better protection for employees and customers. "This will also make it easier for businesses to be sure unvaccinated people are masked," according to their statement.
Breakthrough cases—meaning people testing positive for Covid-19 despite being vaccinated—are happening, although data showing to what extent is not available yet. The CDC states that a small percentage of breakthrough cases is to be expected since no vaccine is 100-percent effective. The agency also expects that some of the vaccinated people who test positive will be asymptomatic, meaning they display no symptoms of the virus.
A spokesperson for the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula confirms the hospital has seen eight cases where people who received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine became infected. None required treatment for critical or severe illness due to the virus. The rest of the over 250 Covid patients treated in the hospital since Jan. 1 had not been vaccinated at all.
Fully vaccinated people are "well-protected" from infections and serious illness due to Covid-19 including delta, according to the Health Department. Vaccination as many people as possible as soon as possible is the county's "best defense."
For information on how to get vaccinated, check out the Monterey County Weekly Covid-19 vaccination guide.