California is extending its indoor mask mandate for at least one more month - through Feb. 15 - state officials said Wednesday.
The state had brought back the mandate last month amid a surge in new COVID-19 infections fueled by the more-contagious omicron variant. Holiday gatherings and related activities are also playing a role in a continuing sharp increase in cases.
At the time it was supposed to expire, or at least be re-evaluated, as of Jan. 15, 2022.
Now, state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly says the mandate will be extended at least through Feb. 15, as the state continues to see a rise in coronavirus infections.
"At that time, we will again reevaluate the condition across California, our communities and our health-care delivery settings to make sure that we are taking the latest information into account to determine if there would be another extension, or if we're prepared to lift that requirement across the state," Ghaly said Wednesday.
The mandate requires the wearing of a face covering in most indoor settings where other people outside your own household are present, such as bars, restaurants, retail stores and other locations, regardless of vaccination status. Many counties already have their own indoor mandates in place, so the state order mostly impacts those counties that do not already have their own mandate.
The decision was made as the state once again sees a strain on its healthcare facilities and COVID-19 testing resources. Some of the numbers are exceeding those experienced during last winter's surge, although death rates are lower because of the vaccine.
"In California we have admitted more patients on a day-to-day basis over the last few days than we did even at the peak of last winter's surge," Ghaly said.
Of particular concern, he added, is a rise in cases, and hospitalizations, among children.
Since the start of the pandemic, California has seen nearly 5.5 million COVID-19 cases and more than 76,000 deaths, according to state data. The state has been averaging about 45 deaths a day over the last eight weeks, with a 21.3% test positivity rate.
The state had seen an average of more than 28,000 new cases per day over the last eight weeks, but that average may continue to rise as Los Angeles County alone has reported more than 20,000 new daily cases several times over the last week.
State officials are also growing concerned about a phenomenon known as "flurona" - or developing separate infections from the coronavirus and influenza at the same time. An instance of the co-infection was reported on Wednesday in Southern California, in a young person who had recently returned with family from a trip to Cabo San Lucas.
Health officials say flu and coronavirus are from different virus families and do not combine to create one superbug, but they can lead to a person experiencing combined symptoms of the two infections at the same time. Consequences include the possibility of hospitalization and/or death, especially in those that have not been vaccinated.
Health officials say they are seeing lower rates of flu vaccination this season.
"Looks like the flu vaccines, people haven't been taking them as much this year, which is leading us to this twindemic of flu and coronavirus," said Dr. Megan Mescher-Cox, a Southern California internal medicine physician.