California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced Wednesday that the state will extend its indoor mask mandate to Feb. 15.
Initially, the mask mandate was set to expire on Jan. 15. Ghaly said during a teleconference with reporters that the state will reevaluate the mandate closer to the Feb. 15 expiration date.
Increasing cases and hospitalizations led to the decision to extend the mandate, he said.
There is no "specific number" the state needs to reach when it comes to lifting the mandate, Ghaly said. However, the state is "taking into account the complete picture and trying to ensure that we keep those health care delivery services as strong and capable as they can be to meet the needs for Californians."
In recent weeks, hospitalizations statewide have been nearing the peak seen last winter. There were 53,000 hospitalizations this time last year, Ghaly said, and as of Wednesday, the state was approaching 51,000 patients. However, all of those patients are not just seeking care for COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 8,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
“We are concerned about hospitals,” Ghaly said.
The Health and Human Services Agency secretary said the state is looking at the hospital situation in a more "nuanced way" and continuing to support facilities so that they have the proper resources needed to help treat patients.
More young people are being admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 in California, Ghaly said, but they're not having to go into intensive care units or pediatric intensive care units for "significant care or ventilation support." Many of those who are being admitted have other underlying conditions.
On Dec. 22, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state would provide 6 million at-home testing kits to students as they head back to school after winter break. Ghaly said they would be made available over the next few days.
Ghaly said the state is "not discussing business closures or further limitations on businesses or other sectors of our economy, schools, etc." He stressed that California is "doing all that we can" to provide the tools and a path to keep schools open.
Getting vaccinated and boosted, if eligible, and wearing well-fitted masks was repeated throughout the teleconference. Ghaly suggested "double masking" with a surgical mask and cloth mask.
On the topic of Super Bowl LVI, scheduled for Feb. 13 in Los Angeles, Ghaly said that work is being done "to make sure that as it is moving forward as planned, that mitigation strategies that create safety around that event are in place."
Ema Sasic covers health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ema_sasic.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: California extends indoor mask mandate to Feb. 15