Orange County residents must wear masks for another month under state-issued mandate

Visitors wearing masks at Newport Beach Pier on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Orange County residents must continue wearing masks for indoor public places for an additional month following a state-issued extension as hospitals bear the brunt of a winter surge in coronavirus cases.

California’s mandate was set back into place mid-December and set for reevaluation Jan. 15. But in a teleconference Wednesday with reporters, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said it was being extended through at least Feb. 15.

“At that time, we will again reevaluate across California our community’s health care delivery to make sure that we are taking the latest information to determine if there there would be another extension or if we’re prepared to lift that requirement,” Ghaly said.


Even if people have been vaccinated, the mandate calls for mask-wearing in all indoor public spaces.

California has reported an average of 54,695 new cases per day over the last week, the highest rolling total in the nearly two-year pandemic, according to data compiled by The Los Angeles Times.

Over the past week, Orange County has averaged 4,512 new cases and 1.4 new deaths per day, according to The Times tracker. The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 368,432 total cases as of Thursday with 6,266 positive cases; two new deaths were reported Thursday.

“Our numbers don’t look good,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, a deputy health officer with Orange County, during Supervisor Katrina Foley’s Community COVID Update Zoom meeting Wednesday evening.

At least nine O.C. hospitals have set up tents to increase capacity during the surge. The highly contagious variant, Omicron, is the culprit for the majority of cases in the county.

“This particular variant is aggressive, infecting everybody and even if you’ve been vaccinated, you’re likely to get it,” said Dr. Timothy Korber, medical director of Fountain Valley Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department, in an interview Thursday. “The vast majority of admissions are unvaccinated. Data is starting to show that the vaccine is fairly protective against the latest variant.”

Entering what he described as the fourth big surge since the pandemic began, Korber said the “tricky part” will be seeing the variant’s impact on health care workers who are on the front lines. Korber got choked up describing how his team stepped up for nearly two years to help.

“If our health care workers get infected and need to take time off, that could also have a big impact on our hospital capacity,” Korber said. “I really ask everyone in Orange County to be a little more careful than they’ve been moving forward for the next month or two to limit how fast this spreads.”

Cases began rising over the holiday season and all ZIP Codes across the county have high case rates, mirroring a national trend. Chinsio-Kwong said data shows unvaccinated people are the ones getting sick and young adults between 19 to 44 are having the highest case rates.

“There’s a potential we may see higher hospitalizations than you’ve seen in the fall and unfortunately, they may actually get to a level close to last winter,” she said. “We still don’t know. It’s still early in Omicron to understand how it’ll impact our health system.”

Chinsio-Kwong urged folks to go to local coronavirus testing sites instead of visiting emergency rooms and hospitals to avoid inundating staff so health care workers can help others in urgent situations. Statewide and in O.C., more people have required hospital care for non-COVID issues this winter.

Before the meeting ended, Foley once again urged viewers to get vaccinated, boosted and follow safety precautions as a way to “be kind to each other by protecting each other” from the virus.

“Please help us spread the word,” she said. “Please help us get more people vaccinated. That is literally our only way out.”

For more information about COVID-19 in O.C., visit:

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