State Mandates Face Masks Indoors to Curb Omicron


Just when it was thought a light could be seen at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, the tunnel seemed to expand.

On Nov. 26 the World Health Organization classified the omicron variant as a “variant of concern.” On Dec. 1 California became the first state in the nation to confirm a case of the omicron variant. The person who had tested positive for this variant had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22.

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, like omicron, as of Wednesday the California Dept. of Public Health requires face coverings [masks] to be worn in all indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status. This requirement will be in place through Jan. 15, 2022. The CDPH will then review and recommend a response to this aspect of the pandemic.

This is something seen before when the delta variant began to spread across the world. Now, as Californians marked the anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccinations, another variant is waiting in the wings to dominate.

Omicron was first identified in South Africa and was found to spread more easily than other variants, including delta.

Viruses, like COVID-19, constantly change through mutations and sometimes these mutations result in a new variant of the virus. Some variants emerge and then disappear while others persist. New variants will continue to emerge, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although not yet dominant, omicron has been found in several states and in several counties in California including San Diego and Los Angeles counties. As of Tuesday, the Dept. of Public Health for Los Angeles County confirmed eight additional cases of omicron bringing the total number to 15 of confirmed cases in LA County. Seven of those omicron cases were symptomatic but did not require hospitalization. The eighth case had an “unknown symptom status.” Five of the eight people were fully vaccinated but had not received a booster; one reported traveling internationally and two reported traveling outside of California. Two of the eight had previous SARS-CoV-2 infections and two cases live in the same household, according to Dept. of Public Health for Los Angeles County.

“Preliminary data indicates that the omicron variant is highly infectious and that being fully vaccinated might not provide adequate protection against the infection. Public Health encourages everyone who is eligible for a booster to get one as soon as possible,” according to the LA County Public Health.

All data gathered from South Africa indicates that omicron does not cause illness as severe as other variants; however, that is not a guarantee it will stay that way as it spreads and, if the trend in other countries continues, this variant could become the dominant form of the virus in the United States.

According to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, omicron is more transmissible and what is being seen in other countries is that the number of cases is doubling about every two days.

In addition, CDPH issued a new travel advisory effective immediately that recommends all travelers, whether vaccinated or not, who are arriving in California be tested for COVID-19 within three to five days after arrival.