Santa Clara County: hang on to your masks

Santa Clara County is not among the 10 Bay Area counties lifting indoor masking requirements for vaccinated individuals today inside businesses and other public indoor settings.

The health officers for Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties are relaxing their mask mandates to align with the state’s recent policy shift, citing “a population-level shift toward a ‘new normal’ of living with” COVID-19.

The new policy will still require indoor masking regardless of vaccination status at K-12, on public transportation, in healthcare settings and longterm care facilities, and in congregate settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters. But the new policy will be relaxed to allow businesses, venues and other operators of indoor public settings to choose whether to mandate masking for vaccinated patrons.

In a joint statement, health officers noted that the state is expected to announce adjustments to requirements on masking in K-12 settings “in the coming weeks.” The health officers added they “strongly recommend masks be used as an effective tool to prevent the spread of the virus especially when case rates are high, or when additional personal protection is needed.”

In Santa Clara County, however, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody isn’t ready to put down the masks just yet.

“We must continue to base our decisions on the risks COVID-19 presents to our community, and we look forward to lifting the indoor mask requirement as soon as we can do so without putting vulnerable people at undue risk,” she said last week.

Dr. Cody said she expects the County will be able to lift its indoor mask mandate in ‘a matter of weeks’, and provided three specific criteria that must be met:

– 80% of residents must be fully vaccinated;

– COVID-19 hospitalizations must be low, per the judgment of the health officer;

– the 7-day average of new cases must be at or below 550 per day for one full week.

As of Wednesday, Santa Clara County’s 7-day average of new cases was 943, a significant drop from 4,420 just one month ago on January 16, and the  numbers continue to fall daily. The County last saw a 7-day average of new cases under 550 on December 22. Santa Clara County has already met the fully-vaccinated requirement.