COVID-19 safety notice
Because of Omicron, Berkeley and Alameda County health officials have tightened indoor mask requirements. People will now have to don face coverings in all indoor spaces. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

The rapid rise of Omicron has led Berkeley and Alameda County health officials to order residents to wear masks whenever they are anywhere indoors in a public setting, including offices, gyms, and houses of worship.

The new rules, which go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 30, will not impact the face masking requirements for school and youth settings, according to a press release sent out today.

“The Omicron variant requires us to use all the tools at hand to reduce the chance of transmission,” said Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez, the city of Berkeley Health Officer. “Masks are more important than ever to minimize the spread of COVID to our most medically vulnerable community members.”

Previously, Berkeley and Alameda County had required people only to wear face coverings in grocery stores, shops, restaurants and bars, theaters, concert settings, and government offices. When the state of California tightened mask-wearing requirements on Dec. 15, Berkeley and Alameda County stuck to their own local rules, which did not include requiring masks in private offices, gyms, and houses of worship.

People may still remove their masks indoors while eating or drinking.

The rise of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 has pushed Berkeley’s local daily case rate to 23.3 per 100,000 residents and that number is expected to rise, according to the press release. Community transmission in Berkeley is now categorized as “high” on the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker.

Just two weeks ago, Berkeley’s 7-day positivity rate: 0.96%.  Fully 91% of Berkeley residents are fully vaccinated and 41% have gotten a booster dose, according to the city.

In Alameda County, the local daily case rate as of Dec. 25 was 87.36 per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC’s Covid tracker. The community transmission rate was categorized as “substantial.” The numbers have probably gone up since then.

Health officials recommend that everyone who is eligible get vaccinated and boosted since the shots provide protection from serious illness and will keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

“Omicron may be more transmissible, but we have the tools to prevent infection,” said Dr. Nicholas Moss, the Alameda County health officer. “Because even a mild infection in a vaccinated person may be passed on to someone who could become hospitalized, we must take every precaution this winter.”

Berkeley and Alameda County health officials recommend:

If you haven’t already done so:

  • Get vaccinated and boosted
  • Stay home if positive, symptomatic, or unvaccinated/not boosted and exposed
  • Wear a mask in all indoor settings.
  • Get tested if exposed, symptomatic, and before and after gathering and traveling.
  • Avoid large or crowded and poorly ventilated settings. You can improve ventilation by opening doors and windows.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...