Bay Area health officials agreed on a set of criteria for lifting the regional indoor masking mandate, but despite conditions improving substantially in the Peninsula, county data still fails to meet at least two of the benchmarks.
“Although we are at a 94% vaccination rate [of eligible residents] in San Mateo County, our residents should be prepared to continue to mask-up indoors for several more weeks and I’m certainly prepared for that and happy to do,” David Canepa, president of the Board of Supervisors said in a press release.
The new rules, released by the health officers from nine Bay Area counties and cities in a statement on Thursday, allows each jurisdiction to independently lift its indoor mask mandate when it meets a set of three criteria.
The first requirement is that the county’s COVID-19 transmission fall to “moderate,” meaning its case and positive test rate go down from current levels and stay down for at least three weeks. The health officers also require that 80% of all residents are fully vaccinated and that local hospitalizations remain low.
San Mateo County does not currently meet the first two standards. Transmission in the county remains “substantial,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even if the rates in the county were to fall to "moderate" risk, County Health spokesperson Preston Merchant noted that areas often fluctuate in and out of tiers.
Such happened to Santa Cruz County after officials opted to remove its indoor masking mandate after the CDC placed them in the yellow tier last week.
And while county data released Wednesday shows that 82% of all residents — including kids who aren’t currently eligible for a shot — have received at least one dose, that figure falls to 74% when accounting for those who have completed their vaccination series, Merchant said.
Local hospital capacity appears stable at around a dozen COVID-19 patients on any given day, but that metric will ultimately be judged by Health Officer Scott Morrow, the statement reads.
The indoor mask mandate could also be lifted eight weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use for 5- to 11-year-olds, according to the statement. No other jurisdictions currently meet all three of the criteria. San Francisco will go ahead and lift part of its mask mandate on Oct. 13, allowing vaccinated people to go unmasked indoors where they’ve proven their vaccination status and where no children are present.
Some spaces, like public transportation and hospitals, will remain under a federal mask order until it is lifted nationwide. State regulations would also require anyone who remains unvaccinated to continue wearing a mask in all indoor public spaces. Local masking guidelines at schools won’t be affected by this new order.
“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,” Morrow wrote in the statement. “As we look toward lifting the mandate, it’s vital for everyone who has not gotten vaccinated to consider getting vaccinated right away.”