Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and the City of Berkeley will end their mandate for most indoor public settings beginning Feb. 16., officials announced Wednesday.
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Unvaccinated people over age 2 will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings. However, businesses and venue operators may still choose to require all patrons to wear masks.
Officials are still highly recommending that people wear masks and get their vaccinations and boosters to further strengthen their defenses.
The 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.
Indoor masking will still required by the state for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, on 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.
Santa Clara Co. is lone holdout, will not lift mask mandate
Health Director Sara Cody announced Wednesday morning that Santa Clara will be the only Bay Area County that does not lift the indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people next week.
"We're taking a different course in Santa Clara County in that we are continuing to follow our data and metrics to tell us when it's appropriate to lift. So that's the difference," Dr. Cody said at a press conference.
The CDC has said cloth masks are not that effective against omicron, but Dr. Cody said residents in her county still need this protection.
"Masks are very important additional layer and have been throughout the pandemic. We need to layer up, need many layers in place when there's a lot of COVID circulating right now. We are still at the high levels of community transmission, we are in the CDC red, and that's why we are still requiring masks indoors."
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She says she will be looking at three metrics before deciding to lift the mandate: Vaccination rates, which she says she is already satisfied with, hospitalization rates and the number of COVID cases.
"There are three metrics we are following. I expect hospitalizations will be the second we meet. Then we will look at community transmission. Our goal is 550 cases a day, 7 day moving average and that we hold there for a week before lifting. Our model suggests we may get there sometime in early or mid-March," she said, saying the county now has about 1,900 cases per day.
She did not have a number of hospitalizations she requires, just saying she wants the number to be low and steady.
"We do not have a specific number of when hospitalizations are low and stable. And the reason why is that hospital capacity is a little elastic and there's many many factors to consider."
Neighboring San Mateo County will be lifting the mask mandate. Dr. Cody says she is not worried about Santa Clara County businesses losing money as customers potentially cross the border to be mask-free.
"The indoor mask mandate did not close gyms, did not close restaurants, so all of those activities are perfectly fine. And people are able to judge their own risk tolerance. I don't expect this to change that."
Some residents say they don't think it makes sense to have different rules for different counties.
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"We don't live far away from each other. I find it very...I think it's stupid, to be honest. We live in the same state, we all travel, we all work in different counties. So I feel like it is hypocritical. Everyone should be treated the same," said Jessica Gonzalez, who lives in Palo Alto, which is next to the San Mateo County border.
Others say they trust in those making the decisions.
"I believe in masks. I know everyone is getting tired of these, but they do some good. So I think we go with it," said Sherry Rayner of Palo Alto.
San Francisco business owners divided after news of mask mandate being lifted
San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip told reporters Wednesday morning that people have been so accustomed to the masking requirement that some may feel comfortable and others may not taking them off as allowed.
She herself plans to continue wearing a mask indoors until she sees COVID cases and hospitalization numbers decline further.
Individual business owners ABC7 News canvassed in San Francisco's Hayes Valley told ABC7 News they were equally divided, some welcoming the change and others saying they would discuss it with employees before deciding whether to welcome unmasked customers.
Dr. Philip said 84% of San Francisco residents have received one vaccination shot. Sixty-four percent have had a booster shot. However, she pointed out that that still leaves about 50% who do not yet have full protection.
Still, "this is a big step. It's something to celebrate," she said.
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