No indoor mask mandate planned in Riverside, San Bernardino counties – San Bernardino Sun

Officials in Riverside and San Bernardino counties don’t intend to follow the lead of Los Angeles County, which plans to bring back a mask-wearing mandate for indoor settings, amid a surging summer wave of coronavirus infections.

“There’s been no talk of that,” David Wert, a San Bernardino County spokesperson, said Wednesday, July 13. “The practice of the county is not to do local COVID orders, but to default to whatever the state guidance is.”

Riverside County public health spokesperson Jose Arballo Jr. said his county has no plans to reinstate an indoor mask mandate, either. Riverside County also continues to rely on state guidelines when it comes to masking, Arballo said.

Since March, the California Department of Public Health has had in place a “strong recommendation,” though not a requirement, that everyone — regardless of vaccination status — don face coverings in public indoor places such as stores, restaurants, theaters and state and local government offices.

There are no plans to require riders on Riverside Transit Agency buses to put on masks, agency spokesperson Bradley Weaver said. Mask wearing has been optional for both riders and bus drivers since spring.

“There has been no discussion about bringing back the mask mandate for our buses, but we will be watching the situation closely and communicating with our customers frequently regarding this issue,” Weaver said.

Masks are still required in some indoor locations, such as hospitals and doctor’s offices and individual businesses.

Coronavirus cases have climbed across Southern California through spring and summer after falling to low levels in late winter, as new exceptionally contagious coronavirus variants have gained a foothold and widely spread infections across the nation.

“We continue to see a rise in cases,” said Arballo, who added the trend “was expected, in part, because of the Fourth of July.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Riverside and San Bernardino counties as having a “medium” community transmission level, while LA County is now in the “high” category.

If Riverside and San Bernardino counties were to move into that “high” range, Wert and Arballo said there were no plans to bring back indoor mask mandates.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties were listed as “medium” on Thursday, July 14, because each has been reporting more than 200 new coronavirus cases weekly per 100,000 residents. Hospitalizations will determine whether the counties reach the “high” range — if new COVID-19 hospital admissions reach 10 per 100,000 population in a week or if COVID-19-positive patients occupy 10% or more of hospital beds.

New hospital admissions in each of the inland counties stood at 8.2 per 100,000 and 6.3% of beds were occupied by coronavirus-positive patients, the federal agency’s website shows.

In LA County, hospital admissions hit 11 per 100,000 residents on Thursday.

“If we remain in the the high COVID-19 community level for two consecutive weeks — that would be through July 28 — we will implement a new universal indoor masking mandate,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a Thursday afternoon briefing.

The LA-area mask mandate would go into effect Friday, July 29, Ferrer said, “to help slow the rate of transmission and protect those most vulnerable.”

According to state data, Inland Empire hospitalizations have been rising, though at a slower rate than infections.

The number of COVID-19-positive hospital patients stood at 233 in San Bernardino County and 242 in Riverside County on Wednesday, data show. That’s the most since late February, when the region was coming out of one of the worst surges of the pandemic, the omicron-fueled winter wave.

While hospitalizations are rising, they remain “a fraction” of the amount recorded in winter, said Shane Reichardt, spokesperson for the Riverside County Emergency Management Department. The number of patients treated for COVID-19 exceeded 1,100 in Riverside County and 1,200 in San Bernardino County in January, according to state data.

In an encouraging sign, Arballo said, the proportion of those requiring intensive care for coronavirus-related illness has declined. On Wednesday, just 11 of the 242 Riverside County patients were in intensive care units.

In San Bernardino County, 29 of 233 patients were in ICUs, the state reported.

Richard Carpiano, a public health scientist and professor of public policy at UC Riverside, said he believes Inland officials should confront the latest surge by stressing the advantages of masking up, expanding opportunities for residents to obtain booster shots and promoting outdoor dining.

Carpiano stopped short of recommending an Inland Empire mandate like the one planned for LA County.

“The political climate plays a big role,” he said. “Riverside and San Bernardino are very different places than Los Angeles.”

And, he said, “mandates should always be a last resort.”

Riverside County Medical Association Executive Director Dolores Green, who backed local coronavirus mandates early on, said her organization has not taken a position on what should be done if the region reaches the “high” transmission level. However, Green said the association continues to “strongly recommend” that people mask up indoors. The group also urges people to get shots.

“It (COVID-19) just keeps getting passed and passed and passed because we haven’t done as good a job as we need to as a community in getting people vaccinated,” she said.

About 60% of Riverside County residents and 59% of San Bernardino County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Green said the medical group is monitoring the latest trend and may consider action if Riverside County hits the “high” level.

“We’re hoping that we won’t get there,” she said.

Staff writer Kristy Hutchings contributed to this report.

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