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Chef Nico of Maison Nico Patricia Chang

Bay Area Counties Recommend Masks Indoors as Delta Variant Numbers Continue to Rise

Masks are back on for indoor dining, even for fully vaccinated individuals

Well, it was nice to breathe just a little bit easier for a few weeks, wasn’t it?

Only one month ago, California fully reopened on June 15, dropping mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals. But with the Delta variant case counts on the rise, many California counties are recommending masks indoors — even for fully vaccinated individuals. Los Angeles county started requesting masks indoors a couple of weeks ago (and will formalize it as a requirement over the weekend); now, the Bay Area counties are following suit: In a joint statement today, July 16, a Bay Area coalition of seven counties announced that they are strongly recommending masks indoors. That means masks are back on for indoor dining, as well as other activities.

“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,” San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip said in a statement. Despite high vaccination rates in San Francisco and across California, the statement confirmed that the Delta variant now makes up more than 43 percent of all specimens sequenced in California, which doesn’t just refer to how many people got tested, but how many specimens got sequenced to determine the strain. And the CDC says the Delta variant is responsible for 58 percent of all infections across the country.

This is only a recommendation; at the time of reporting, there is no formal mask mandate. But the coalition is strongly recommending that people wear masks indoors at grocery stores, retail shops, theaters, and other businesses. Restaurants and bars in San Francisco and the Bay Area are not officially required to make diners wear a mask, but they are being recommended to ask diners to wear a mask, meaning don’t be surprised if you’re asked to mask up before stepping into a dining room.

“We will continue to work closely with the city and the SF Department of Public Health to communicate the recommendations that focus on a safe and healthy environment for our employees, guests, and community .... ” Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association said in a statement. At the very least, SF restaurants are prepared if diners prefer to return to outdoor dining, and grateful for the news that parklets are here to stay. “These new recommendations highlight how important it was for our industry to have the Shared Spaces legislation passed on Tuesday. It has been a lifeline this past year for restaurants, bars, cafes, and retail businesses and having it as an option in these uncertain times is essential to their continued survival.”

This Bay Area coalition includes seven out of the nine counties in the Bay Area, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, and the city of Berkeley. (Napa and Solano counties were not included in this announcement.) These Bay Area counties are joining other California counties that have already made this move back to masks indoors. Los Angeles started requesting masks two weeks ago, and just made it an official mandate that’s going into effect at 11:59 p.m. on July 17. Sacramento and Yolo counties are also recommending masks for now.

It’s been a long road for restaurants in the Bay Area, with figuring out and enforcing mask requirements. In summer 2020, when the city was opening up for outdoor dining, servers had to do a song and dance to get diners to cover up their faces every time they approached the table. By spring 2021, as city and state were steadily moving through colored tier changes, restaurants had to parse different rules for indoor and outdoor dining, as well as for vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals.

In May, the CDC abruptly announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer had to wear masks indoors, resulting in a lot of local mask confusion. Finally, when California fully reopened on June 15, it was clear that fully vaccinated diners were free to remove their masks, but Cal/OSHA took longer to confirm that fully vaccinated restaurant and bar workers could remove their masks. Understandably, after going through all that, some Bay Area restaurants have been more cautious about removing masks in dining rooms and kitchens.

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