As some Bay Area health officials ponder whether to end indoor masking requirements, San Mateo County health leaders signaled an intent to maintain the policy while continuing to follow the data but did reveal more information may be coming this week.
“At this time, San Mateo County is not considering lifting its health order requiring the use of masks indoors but continues to evaluate data related to the impacts and risks of COVID-19 in our region,” County Health spokesperson Preston Merchant said in an email.
Health conditions have continued to improve in recent weeks across the region but it’s unclear what targets County Health officials are aiming for that would inspire an end of indoor masking requirements for the vaccinated.
Deputy Health Officer Dr. Curtis Chan said in a recent interview that officials may decide to lift the mandate for specific groups at lower risk of contracting the virus rather than opting for a blanket removal.
In early August, San Mateo County joined Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties and Berkeley in requiring its residents to mask up when indoors regardless of vaccination status. The move was intended to provide the public with an extra layer of protection as COVID-19 cases surged due to the delta variant.
Santa Cruz County soon followed suit but is now the first to formally lift the mandate Wednesday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled the county as having a moderate transmission risk in its COVID-19 Data Tracker, according to a press release from county’s Health Services Agency.
San Francisco and Sacramento County health officials are also reportedly considering an end to the mandate. Merchant said County Health officials may issue additional information on the matter later this week.
Regardless of regional or local mask mandates, those still unvaccinated are required by state law to wear face coverings when indoors and for anyone when in schools, public transportation and medical facilities.
When the mandate was first instituted, officials said they would consider lifting it when COVID-19 figures returned to mid-June levels. At that time in San Mateo County, infection rates and hospitalizations were in the single digits.
The county appears to be moving in that direction, according to data shared by Chief of Health Louise Rogers who outlined the state of the virus in the county in her weekly Message from the Chief.
The county currently has an average new daily case rate of nine cases per 100,000 residents, for about 70 new cases per day. Hospitalizations have also trended down, she said, averaging between 26 to 35 patients a day for the past seven days.
“Each week brings progress and new opportunities,” Rogers said, adding that the county remains “unrelentingly focused on protecting our residents from the direct impacts of the pandemic by lifting vaccination rates.”
San Mateo County also has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, with 94% of eligible residents ages 12 and older having received at least one dose so far. The rate is 81.5% when accounting for all residents including children still ineligible for the vaccine.
Emergency federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 5 years old is expected to come in October or November, Rogers said. Health officials, the County Office of Education, pediatricians and health care providers are already preparing for the rollout, she added.
Meanwhile, Rogers said officials are still focused on getting vaccination rates up to 80% in underserved communities. Though 58.7% of those who have been vaccinated are people of color, individually, Black, Hispanic, multiracial and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community groups are each still under 80% vaccinated along with the areas of Broadmoor, El Granada, Loma Mar and Moss Beach.
“The Bay Area’s trends show the positive impact of high vaccination rates, but we remain cautious and vigilant,” Rogers said. “We continue to urge that COVID-19 vaccination for all who are eligible is the most important action to take to protect oneself and the community.”