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Most Bay Area counties to lift indoor mask mandate next week; Santa Clara County holds out

Masks still strongly recommended; vaccines and boosters urged to further strengthen defenses
Womans wearing N95
Woman wearing N95

Nearly all of the greater Bay Area's 11 counties will lift their indoor mask mandates next week, aligning them with the state's plans to lift its mask requirements.

Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Solano counties and the city of Berkeley will all drop their requirements to wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status, on Feb. 16. 

In San Mateo County, the level of virus transmission remains high but is trending downward since its January peak. The 7-day lagged case rate average reported by the State on Monday was 85 cases per 100K in the population, compared to 144 a week ago. Since the 7-day peak of 239 cases per 100K population on January 8, the case rate has declined by 64%.

Indoor masking is still required by the State for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in public transportation; health care settings; congregate settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters; long-term care facilities; and in K-12 schools and childcare settings leading up to the lift. Businesses, venue operators and hosts may determine their own paths forward to protect staff and patrons and may choose to require all patrons to wear masks.

Bay Area health officers, in alignment with California Department of Public Health, continue to strongly recommend masks as well as vaccinations and boosters as the best defense against the virus. Well-fitted masks such as the N95, or double layer cloth over a surgical mask are still encouraged. As well as, staying home and testing when symptomatic, testing before gatherings and improving indoor ventilation when possible. 

“As public restrictions and mandates diminish over time, it is incumbent on all of us to continue to take appropriate precautions,” said San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow. “As much as we all would like the issues surrounding COVID to be over, they are not. COVID continues to cause a lot of serious disease and death.”

State public health officials said Monday that the statewide mask mandate, which has been in effect since Dec. 15, would expire as the state's COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers have plummeted from the record highs of the omicron variant surge. 

Officials in the 10 counties argued that COVID's spread has also waned significantly across the region and that relaxing mask requirements is part of a shift toward a "new normal" of living with the virus rather than attempting to snuff out its spread completely.

"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," Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Ori Tzvieli said.

CDPH continues to require masking in K-12 school settings but has indicated adjustments to the state’s policies will be shared in the coming weeks. For early education programs, such as preschool and childcare settings, CDPH continues to require masking for children older than age two. Vaccinations for children under 5 are currently undergoing federal review. Workplaces will continue to follow the COVID-19 prevention standards set by CalOSHA.

The lone holdout among Bay Area counties is Santa Clara, with county health officials arguing lifting local indoor mask requirements would present an unnecessary risk to residents who are vulnerable to the virus. 

Santa Clara County public health officials expect to lift most indoor mask requirements for vaccinated residents "in a matter of weeks," once the county's seven-day average of new cases per day falls below 500 for at least one week and Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody deems hospitalizations in the county to be "low and stable."

"Universal indoor masking is critical to protect our community, especially community members who are older or immunocompromised," Cody said in a statement. "Continuing to mask indoors should also allow our case rates to continue to drop quickly."

Health officials in all 11 of the greater Bay Area's counties urged residents to get vaccinated against the virus as well as a booster jab when eligible. 

Individual businesses and events will also be encouraged to require the use of a mask indoors if they consider it necessary, and residents are advised to wear a well-fitting N95 mask when a face covering is required. "

While wearing a mask indoors is no longer mandatory for people who are vaccinated, it remains a smart and simple way to protect yourself and the people around you," Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said. 

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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