Variant uncertainty has Santa Clara Co. health officials pushing pause on easing COVID mandates

High vaccination rates help, but the known threat of delta and uncertainty of omicron have officials keeping mandates in place.

Dustin Dorsey Image
Friday, December 10, 2021
Santa Clara Co. 'not anywhere near' lifting indoor mask mandate
Santa Clara County says it's "not anywhere near" lifting the indoor mask mandate, despite having a nearly 80% vaccination rate.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Despite omicron dominating coronavirus headlines lately, there is some good news in the South Bay.

Santa Clara County is reporting a 79% vaccination rate of the eligible population, ages 5 and older, and is on track to reach 80% countywide soon.

"We're very encouraged because we know that no matter what variant we're looking at, that having been vaccinated and now boosted, which is very important, we're actually going to protect ourselves even more," Santa Clara County COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said.

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The protection is important, but 80% vaccination rate has another meaning - it's one criteria needed to lift the indoor mask mandate in the county.

The counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma and the City of Berkeley will lift the indoor masking requirement in public spaces 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
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations in the jurisdiction are low and stable, in the judgment of the health officer
  • 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)
  • OR 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

So just how close are we to making a change?

"Right now, we're not anywhere near lifting it," Dr. Fenstersheib said. "So, I think this is not the time to be removing the mask, it's really a time to encourage people to wear their mask."

That's because we're in a situation UCSF's Dr. Peter Chin-Hong relates to walking a tight rope: stability is in question.

The high vaccination rates help, but he says the known threat of delta and uncertainty of omicron are leading officials to keep mandates in place.

"We know delta is around, we understand Delta," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "But, we just don't understand enough about omicron yet. With increasing cases and the spread rapidly around the world, there's a lot of uncertainty around and I think uncertainty is driving the pause button hit."

VIDEO: How severe is omicron? Expert says variant's 50 mutations could be its downfall

Jim Dolan has more on the omicron variant and what preliminary data suggests about the potency of the new strain.

Last year, the holiday season brought along the biggest spike in COVID-19 cases.

The county is seeing low hospitalization rates, but a rise in transmission.

Therefore, Dr. Fenstersheib says the 80% threshold shouldn't lead to letting our guard down.

"We just want to remind people to be vigilant and continue doing the same things," Dr. Fenstersheib said.