The Center for Disease Control announced new masking recommendations for areas with substantial risk of contracting COVID-19. This announcement was made in light of the recent spike of COVID-19 Delta variant cases that has spread throughout the country.

Masking recommendations are now in effect at the federal, state and county levels in an effort to encourage people to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus that first made its debut in the U.S. in January 2020.

“The Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is surging in the United States. New data show Delta is different than past versions of the virus; it is much more contagious. While rare, some vaccinated people can get Delta in a breakthrough infection and may be contagious,” said the CDC in an online statement. “Everyone in areas of substantial or high transmission should wear a mask, even if they are vaccinated.”

The CDC also urged unvaccinated people to get their COVID-19 vaccines, as the risk of hospitalization and/or death from contracting the more potent Delta variant for unvaccinated individuals is much higher than those who are vaccinated.

According to an interactive map provided by the CDC (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view), San Joaquin County is currently considered at a “substantial” risk for COVID-19 transmission. 

At the local level, the positive case rate for COVID-19 has risen significantly since the California reopened the economy on June 15. A small rise in cases was originally expected with more individuals interacting with each other, however the numbers are now bringing concern to public health experts.

“You see the two sets of waves that we've had, and now we are starting to enter another wave. And there are state modelers that have been modeling this throughout the pandemic, who are now predicting that based on the rate of rise, that we are entering a surge that will possibly be as bad as last summer,” said San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park during her bi-weekly COVID-19 update to the Board of Supervisors.

Park presented various local, state and federal statistics to show the board the severity of COVID-19 transmission as of late, including models that showed various outcomes based on the rate that the virus spreads versus the number of people fully vaccinated, which is currently at 48% in the county. Statewide, about 62% of Californians have been fully vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, the daily rate of new positive cases in San Joaquin County was at 11.5 per-100,000 residents.

“You may recall on June 15, when the state was reopened, our case rate was 3.2,” said Park. “You might also recall that when I was last here two weeks ago, the case rate had gone from 3.2 to 4.7 on July 12. And so, since July 12, two weeks ago, we've more than doubled to 11.5. And the state is saying that the this is the fastest rate of increase of COVID-19 that we've seen thus far throughout the pandemic.”

Hospitalizations have also continued to rise in the county, according to data that Park presented.

“We were at 71 on (June) 26th. And as of yesterday … we're at 74 people in the hospital, 25 in ICU and 13 on ventilators,” said Park. “So statewide, since the beginning of July, the number of people in hospitals in California has tripled. And we (San Joaquin County) have nearly tripled going from 25 to 74 for ourselves in the county.”

Park also addressed concerns over masks being mandated indoors for students on campus at K-12 schools, stressing that the state not only wants to get kids back to fulltime instruction but also wants them to be able to remain there.

Masking for students inside the classroom has been mandated by the state and strongly recommended by both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics since a majority of school-aged youth have not yet received their COVID-19 vaccinations.  

“And to really be clear what the CDPH is message is, is that the number-one priority for the state is that we get back to full in-person instruction so that kids are in class in their seats full time. And because that is the priority, the state has decided that we will use a layered approach, where we start with every layer on board,” said Park. “Layering, is a term that the CDC uses as well, which refers to masking, ventilation of handwashing, contacts, tracing, testing, proper isolation and quarantining of the kids who are positive or exposed.”

Masking for students has received some pushback from parents throughout the country due to conflicting studies that suggest that masking may be harmful to youth if worn for an extended period of time.

“There have been concerns that face masks can reduce oxygen intake, and can lead to low blood oxygen levels, known as hypoxemia. However, masks are made from breathable materials that will not block the oxygen your child needs,” says an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, titled “Mask Mythbusters: 5 Common Misconceptions about Kids & Cloth Face Coverings.”

“Masks will not affect your child's ability to focus or learn in school. The vast majority of children age 2 or older can safely wear face masks for extended periods of time, such as the school day or at child care. This includes children with many medical conditions.” 

• Contact Brianna Guillory at bguillory@tracypress.com or 209-830-4229.

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