Bay Area health officers Wednesday said they will follow the state next week in granting vaccinated people the freedom to unmask indoors in most settings, but Santa Clara County will keep its order in place for several more weeks.
The counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, San Benito, Solano, Sonoma, and the City of Berkeley said that along with the state, they will lift universal mask requirements for the vaccinated in most indoor public settings beginning Wednesday, February 16.
“We are able to take this next major step of removing the universal indoor mask requirement because we have laid a strong foundation in good public health protections — especially vaccines and boosters — and know we can reduce severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” said Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Ori Tzvieli.
But in Santa Clara County, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said Wednesday that case rates remain too high in in the county for her to feel comfortable easing the mask rule just yet.
“Ultimately, our job is to follow the science to keep our community as safe as possible,” Cody said Wednesday morning. “We cannot lift the indoor mask requirement with the community transmission rates as high as they are now.”
Next week’s relaxing of the mask requirement doesn’t apply to the unvaccinated, or to “high risk” settings including public transit, health care facilities and congregate living settings such as jails and prisons, homeless shelters, heating and cooling centers and long-term care facilities. It also doesn’t apply to K-12 schools and child care facilities.
The relaxing of masking requirements comes as COVID-19 cases continue to fall in California from a January winter peak. But they remain high.
California and the rest of the U.S. remain in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s red “high” COVID-19 transmission level, reflecting 100 or more cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. In California, the rate was 682 Wednesday morning, higher than the 576 in Florida, 566 in Texas and 251 in New York.
Santa Clara County’s transmission rate per 100,000 people over the last seven days was 379 as of Wednesday morning according to the CDC. In other counties by comparison, it was 274 in Alameda, 300 in Contra Costa, 231 in San Francisco, 300 in San Mateo, 189 in Marin, 458 in Monterey, 484 in Santa Cruz, 390 in Napa, 344 in Sonoma and 284 in Solano.
Sonoma County also is planning to lift a local restriction on gatherings, which the other counties did not impose, on Friday.
Most of the Bay Area counties had joined in reimposing indoor masking requirements regardless of vaccination last fall as COVID-19 cases remained high from a summer spike fueled by the delta variant and concerns about a coming winter surge.
Several of the counties later allowed for some exceptions that allowed small groups of vaccinated people to gather without masks at work or at gyms. In mid-December amid the growing omicron-variant winter surge, state health officials reinstated the requirement for everyone to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination. The order was set to last a month but extended in January through Feb. 15.
When most of the Bay Area counties reimposed the mask requirement last fall, they said they would lift them when case rates, vaccination rates and hospitalization rates met certain metrics.
Cody said Wednesday that Santa Clara County has reached its vaccination metric, and that the metric for low and stable COVID-19 hospitalizations is close, as cases are plateauing. But the seven-day moving average of new cases remains too high for her comfort she said, about 1,900 cases a day currently. By comparison, the seven-day average of daily cases in the county peaked last winter at 1,480.
Cody said that assuming the hospitalization rates reach a low and stable level soon, the indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people can lift when the seven-day daily average of cases falls to 550 a day. She said that given the current rate of declining case rates, that won’t be reached for three or four weeks. Residents can follow the county’s case rate progress on its online web dashboard.
Health officers in the greater Bay Area region have been communicating with each other throughout the pandemic. But although they try to coordinate pandemic restrictions to make them easier for people to understand and follow, they haven’t always done so.
The health officers in the greater Bay Area have tried to coordinate restrictions throughout the pandemic, but haven’t always been in step. Asked why Santa Clara was taking such a different path from most of its neighbors, Cody said “we always continue to work together.”
“We don’t always reach the same conclusions.”
Check back for updates