After April 3 state order expires
Staff in local skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) will be required to continue wearing masks under a new Contra Costa County health order.
The order, which requires masks to be well-fitted and cover the nose and mouth, will also apply to paramedics, emergency medical technicians, contractors and vendors when they enter these facilities in Contra Costa. The masking order will not apply to SNF patients or visitors seeing their loved ones.
The County’s health order will go into effect on Monday, April 3, immediately after the state’s COVID masking order for healthcare settings expires.
“Requiring staff at SNFs to wear well-fitting masks will help protect their vulnerable elderly patients from being infected with COVID,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the County’s health officer, who is issuing the order. “We know from our experience during the pandemic that the people SNFs serve – seniors with serious underlying health problems – are the ones who are most susceptible to severe outcomes from a COVID infection.”
Since the pandemic began in 2020, 57% of the deaths from COVID in Contra Costa have been among people ages 75 and older.
There are 30 SNFs in Contra Costa. Skilled nursing facilities provide a higher level of medical care than other long-term care facilities. The order will not apply to assisted living facilities, residential-care facilities or board-and-care homes, although masking is still highly recommended in those settings.
Hospitals and outpatient healthcare clinics in Contra Costa County will not be subject to the new County order, although local health systems can choose to enforce their own masking policies. Dr. Tzvieli said hospitals have robust infection-control policies and personnel and can determine if and when masking is required.
California’s pandemic-related health emergency ended on Feb. 28. While the state is lifting its masking requirements for healthcare settings on April 3, local health officials can still issue their own masking orders.
Under the County health order, a well-fitted mask is defined as covering the nose and mouth and it’s strongly recommended that SNF personnel use higher-quality masks, such as an N95 or KN95/94, to provide the maximum protection.
County health staff were asked why the order is still necessary when there has been less than a 1% infection rate in the county in the past 60 days and according to a physician at John Muir Medical Center Concord, the latest COVID strain is treated like a bad cold and they no longer hospitalize for it.
UPDATE: According to Contra Costa Health spokesman Will Harper, “The new local order is narrowly focused on skilled nursing facilities and not any other settings. We are focusing on SNFs in this order because they are where we have seen some of the worst impacts of COVID in Contra Costa County, and we are being cautious with removing one of the last major layers of protection in this setting. As we said in the press release, requiring staff in skilled nursing facilities to wear masks will help protect the vulnerable elderly patients they serve.
From March 2020 to August 2022, deaths of residents of skilled nursing facilities accounted for approximately 27% of all deaths from COVID in the County and, looking more broadly, since the start of the pandemic, 57% of the deaths from COVID in Contra Costa have been among people ages 75 and older.”
Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.