The new indoor mask mandate goes into effect September 1 at 12:01 a.m

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — The County of San Luis Obispo (SLO) Public Health Department reported on Tuesday, Aug. 31, that due to the increase in cases, masks are again mandated for indoor activities within San Luis Obispo County for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Exceptions include children under the age of two and individuals with medical or mental conditions which prevent them from wearing masks. 

Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer, opened the briefing stating that she was sorry to have to again be here, but that two weeks ago, she had requested voluntary use of masks from individuals in indoor settings to help curb the increase in cases that were occurring. According to Borenstein, since there was not enough compliance from the public, the cases in August reached 3,543 compared to the 163 cases in June; there was no mention of July case numbers. 

Furthermore, Borenstein stated that more concerning than case numbers are the surge in the healthcare system, particularly hospitals with 11 more deaths and eight more are pending final certificates that are believed to be due or related to COVID-19. Currently, there are 67 individuals in hospital with COVID-19 and 20 in intensive care. These numbers supersede any the county has seen so far, including the winter months. Borenstein said that the numbers are the highest they have ever been in this pandemic, and unlike winter, the county is fully open, allowing for higher risk of transmission.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

The significant increase in cases was not attributed to the increased requirement for testing; however, in July, Governor Gavin Newsom implemented vaccine and testing measures for all healthcare employees which then followed by the same requirement for education professionals and teaching staff, several large corporations implemented the same rules, then schools reopened, and testing became a requirement for all athletes and coaches.  

Currently, the Delta virus is almost exclusively the variant seen statewide, at about 98 percent of cases, and those numbers are similar within the county as well. 

Since the start of the pandemic, San Luis Obispo County has recorded a total of 25,729 positive cases.

Currently, health officials say there are 1,703 known active cases in the county.

The county has updated the COVID-19 information page with data showing the percentage of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from vaccinated as well as unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated individuals. Since the mask mandate lifted and the vaccine was made available to all on Jun. 15, unvaccinated individuals made up 77 percent of all cases, 86 percent of hospitalizations, and 79 percent of deaths.

Borenstein urged everyone to get vaccinated and wear masks, addressing that all of us want to stop wearing masks and get back to enjoying events and spending time with friends and family. 

Following Borenstein’s presentation were presentations by Mark Lisa, the CEO of Tenet Health on the Central Coast, Alan Iftiniuk, the President and CEO of Dignity Health hospitals, and many others, including Dr. Ritter, who currently serves as Chief Medical Officer for Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, as well as works fulltime as a practicing infectious disease physician. 

Each one echoed the urge to wear masks and get vaccinated, sharing stories of how their staff is stretched thin from dealing with these cases daily since March of 2020 and how the best thing that the public can do to help them at this time is to help slow the spread so the hospital staff can give proper focus to patients of cancer, strokes, and other non-pandemic related cases.

During the question and answer period, Borenstein addressed common questions, such as why get vaccinated if you’ve already had COVID, explaining that the durability or longevity of the vaccine antibodies has shown to be more effective than natural antibodies from contracting COVID. 

However, earlier this year, research funded in part by NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and National Cancer Institute (NCI, and published on Jan. 6 found durable immune responses in the majority of people studied. The study included 200 people who had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and recovered.

The antibodies against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which the virus uses to get inside cells, were found in 98 percent of participants one month after symptom onset. As seen in previous studies, the number of antibodies ranged widely between individuals. But, promisingly, their levels remained fairly stable over time, declining only modestly at 6 to 8 months after infection.

Research is still ongoing as real-time studies continue for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. 

Borenstein also emphasized the need to move from 60 percent vaccination, which was previously the goal, to 90 percent vaccination now that we are facing the Delta variant, which has a higher infection rate. How or who determined the increase of the vaccine percentage rate was not addressed. 

Dr. Ritter fielded a question quoting a San Luis Obispo resident stating that “the Delta variant is just a watered-down COVID-19 strain,” saying that he’d argue that the opposite is actually true. The virus goes through changes to strengthen itself as it goes through hosts, and in the case of the Delta variant, it isn’t a change in the virus allowing it to attach better, but rather that there is more of it.

Free coronavirus testing is available to the public at the old train station in Paso Robles and at the San Luis Obispo Veteran’s Hall. Both locations are open Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Local urgent cares are also offering testing, but health officials say some facilities have seen an increase in testing appointments, so calling ahead is encouraged.

To get your COVID-19 vaccine at a Public Health clinic in Paso Robles, Grover Beach, or San Luis Obispo, visit MyTurn.ca.gov or call (833)422-4255 to choose your location, time, and vaccine type.

For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, visit ReadySLO.org