With California hit by new coronavirus wave, time to start wearing masks? Limit gatherings?

Patrons crowd the streets of the weekly farmers' market in San Luis Obispo. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
What should residents do to protect themselves from infection as California grapples with a renewed coronavirus resurgence?
Unlike previous waves of the pandemic, which were marked by defined restrictions on what people could do and how businesses could operate, officials have shown no appetite for renewed restrictions unless hospitalizations worsen dramatically.
But it's still important for residents to take steps to reduce their risk of infection, experts say - both to avoid potentially serious health consequences and to reduce the chance of a long COVID, in which symptoms of the disease, including fatigue and brain fog, last for months can last or years.
Here are what some experts had to say:
When should I wear a mask?
California lifted its statewide indoor public masking orders months ago. However, officials have consistently urged residents to use face coverings in indoor public spaces - including retail stores, restaurants, theaters and family entertainment centers.
The California Department of Health and Human Services "also strongly recommends masks on all public transportation and at transit hubs, including bus and train stations, ferry terminals and airports," said a statement sent in response to a request from The Times. "These crowded environments should be considered high risk and often lack adequate ventilation."
Los Angeles County has gone a step further and still requires face coverings on public transit, including ridesharing, and in closed transit hubs.
"With all the unknowns surrounding these new variants, it makes sense to take the simple step of putting the mask back on when you're indoors," said Barbara Ferrer, the county's director of public health.
the us Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending indoor masking in counties where COVID-19 community levels are rated as high - meaning hospitals are beginning to see exposure to increasing numbers of coronavirus-positive patients.
No California counties are in this category. But regardless of the level of a region, "individuals can always choose to wear a mask to protect themselves from infection," said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky last week.
How about gatherings?
There are a few steps people can take when attending or hosting a gathering.
Outside is preferable inside. If you must gather indoors, make the area as ventilated as possible by opening doors and windows whenever possible. Wearing masks also provides an extra layer of protection, officials say.
"We're not suggesting that people avoid gatherings, but we're suggesting that people gather with a lot of security," Ferrer said during a recent briefing.
Testing is another tool. Officials recommend using rapid tests to check infection status as soon as possible before the start of a gathering -- especially when the elderly or those with underlying health conditions are present, or when attendees have frequent contact with those at risk.
"Please don't be afraid to tell people before a gathering that you want them tested," Ferrer said.
What about indoor dining?
Given the high rate of virus transmission, health experts have made different suggestions about eating indoors.
The story goes on

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