Eight Bay Area counties will lift the indoor mask mandates after a series of criteria are met, they announced today.
The counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma and the City of Berkeley reached a consensus on criteria to lift health orders requiring the masks and to allow organizations to set requirements independently.
They will lift the indoor masking requirement in public spaces that are not subject to state and federal masking rules when all the following occur:
• The jurisdiction reaches the moderate (yellow) COVID-19 transmission tier, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and remains there for at least three weeks; and
• COVID-19 hospitalizations in the jurisdiction are low and stable, in the judgment of the health officer; and
• 80% of the jurisdiction’s total population is fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson (booster doses not considered)
Alternatively, they could also lift the masking mandate if eight weeks have passed since a COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by federal and state authorities for 5- to 11-year-olds.
Currently, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties are all in the CDC's orange, or "substantial," tier, according to the CDC's County Check tool
Most Bay Area health departments issued the masking requirements for their respective jurisdictions on Aug. 3, following a summer surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
But with regional data showing that the surge is now receding, and with the Bay Area one of the most vaccinated regions in the country, Bay Area health officers agreed it is time to plan for a transition.
Lifting a local indoor mask mandate would not prevent businesses, nonprofits, churches or others with public indoor spaces from imposing their own requirements, however. COVID-19 easily spreads through airborne droplets, and face coverings remain highly powerful in preventing its spread, San Mateo County's public health department noted.
"Each jurisdiction will rescind its order when criteria are met in that jurisdiction. The criteria were developed to assist in determining the safest time to lift the indoor masking orders, based on regional scientific and medical consensus. The criteria also provide safety for school children, ages 5-11, who need the added protection of masks in the community to keep case rates low so they can remain in school until they can be vaccinated," the San Mateo County announcement said.
“As a safety measure, along with vaccination, face coverings have been key to our success in the Bay Area in reducing transmission and protecting public health. As we look toward lifting the mandate, it’s vital for everyone who has not gotten vaccinated to consider getting vaccinated right away,” Dr. Scott Morrow, San Mateo County health officer, said.
People who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 must continue to wear masks in businesses and indoor public spaces, in accordance with state health guidance.
The state also requires face coverings for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in health care facilities, public transit and adult and senior care facilities. California’s masking guidelines in K-12 schools would also not be affected by changes to local health orders.
The county health officers have to decide on metrics for reimposing indoor mask requirements should that become necessary, Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody said during a Thursday morning press conference. They are jointly keeping an eye out for emerging new variants and assessing how the vaccines do over time with new variants, she said.
Santa Clara County remains on the CDC's orange tier but the number of new infections is trending down. The county currently has 72.4% of its total population fully vaccinated, though 84.2% of those 12 and older have been fully inoculated. The county has just shy of 175,000 children ages 5 to 11 who would be eligible for the vaccine once it is approved for that age group. Cody said the county will diligently pursue getting those children vaccinated.
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee is scheduled to consider an application from Pfizer-BioNTech to grant emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds on Oct. 26.
Cody said she has "enormous gratitude" to the public in Santa Clara County and in the region for following the COVID-19 protocols. Because of that, the region has gotten to the point of being able to potentially lift the mask mandates.
The fourth infection surge, which was fueled by the more communicable delta variant, was relatively blunted compared to other parts of the state and the country because residents have largely heeded the five ways to lower transmission: testing, vaccinations, masking, ventilation and social distancing, she said.
The public can track together with health departments how each county is doing by following on the CDC site and looking at the counties' COVID-19 websites.