California announced it is extending its statewide indoor mask mandate until at least Feb. 15 due to the rise in COVID-19 cases driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant, according to health department officials.
"We are and continue to be concerned about our hospitals," Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told The Associated Press Wednesday. "Some facilities are going to be strapped."
State officials reinstated the indoor mask mandate on Dec. 15 last year and it was originally due to expire on Jan. 15.
Currently, the state requires mask-wearing for everyone — regardless of vaccination status — in all indoor spaces, such as bars, restaurants and retail stores.
Many counties across California have their own indoor mandates, so the new statewide order primarily affects the counties that don't.
As Feb. 15 approaches, "we will again re-evaluate 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, according to KABC-TV.
Over the last two weeks, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by "more than sixfold" as hospitalizations across the state have doubled, the California Health Department said.
"While the percentage of Californians fully vaccinated and boosted continues to increase, we continue to have areas of the state where vaccine coverage is low, putting individuals and communities at greater risk for COVID-19," the department said in a statement.
"Implementing a universal masking requirement not only has proven to decrease the rate of infections but is able to slow community transmission," the department continued.
As of Wednesday, nearly 65 million total COVID vaccines have been administered to those eligible.
So far, nearly 80% of Californians have been vaccinated with at least one dose, with close to 144,000 people a day are receiving a vaccine, according to health officials.