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Kern residents encouraged to wear masks indoors following state's guidance

Every person in Kern County should now wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, state and local health officials now recommend.

The updated guidance is a change from a previous policy, which allowed vaccinated people to go without masks in most public settings.

However, an uptick in coronavirus infections has led health officials to reverse course. The new recommendation falls short of a mandate, leaving it up to individual vaccinated residents to choose whether to don masks.

Unvaccinated individuals continue to be required to wear masks in indoor public settings.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its own mask guidelines to recommend fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in public indoor settings if they live in areas of substantial transmission or worse, which includes Kern County.

The California Department of Public Health described the masking of vaccinated individuals as an extra precaution to reduce overall COVID-19 transmission rates, especially in areas with high spread.

The state public health department updated its policy Wednesday to address the continued spread of the delta variant, which is twice as contagious as early coronavirus mutations. The department says wearing a mask protects the wearers and those around them, and is especially important for the unvaccinated.

The delta variant now accounts for 80 percent of cases sequenced, according to the health department, and overall COVID-19 transmission has been increasing over the last several weeks.

In Kern County, the number of individuals detected with the delta variant jumped from six last week to 37 on Thursday. Hospitalizations are also increasing. On Wednesday, 82 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Kern County, up from 59 June 21.

Throughout the pandemic, Kern County Public Health Services has deferred to the state for guidance on COVID-19 protocols. With the updated recommendations on Wednesday, the county also began recommending universal masking while in indoor public spaces.

Adjusting to the update, the city of Bakersfield said it would encourage residents to follow guidelines from public health officials. Masks will be made available to visitors to city facilities, but service will not be denied to those who refuse to wear them, Bakersfield spokesman Joe Conroy said in an email.

Kern County spokeswoman Ally Triolo said the county was in compliance with federal, state and workforce guidelines and would continue to be so.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.