Santa Clara County public health officials announced today that the county will keep in place its local indoor masking requirements when California lifts statewide indoor masking requirements Feb.16.
Numbers of new cases and hospitalization rates remain high in the county, despite high rates of vaccination, officials said.
California gives counties and cities the authority to enforce public health rules that are more strict than the state. The Santa Clara County announcement at a morning outdoor briefing streamed on social media followed similar comments by Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody at the county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Nearly all of the greater Bay Area's 11 counties will lift their indoor mask mandates next week, aligning them with the state's plans to lift its mask requirements. Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Solano counties and the city of Berkeley will all drop their requirements to wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status, on Feb. 16. Los Angeles County has announced it will not immediately lift its local masking requirement, local officials noted today.
Santa Clara County “will continue to base decisions on whether and when to lift indoor masking requirements on the risks posed by COVID-19, using clearly defined metrics related to vaccination, hospitalizations, and COVID-19 case rates,” the public health statement said this morning.
The county said it “anticipates that it will be able to lift indoor masking requirements in a matter of weeks, as case rates continue to decline.”
The county previously announced metrics for lifting local masking requirements in October. Today, the County Public Health Department announced that it had updated these metrics, which were adopted when the Delta variant was circulating in the community, to reflect the fact that the current Omicron variant poses less risk of severe illness and hospitalization than Delta.
The previous metrics required that the seven-day average of new cases be approximately 150 or fewer based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “moderate” criteria. The updated metrics allow indoor masking requirements to be lifted when the county’s seven-day average of new cases is 550 or fewer for at least a week.
The county said it has already met one of the three metrics for lifting the indoor masking requirement—that 80% of all county residents are fully vaccinated. The two remaining metrics are not yet met. The local indoor masking requirement will be lifted when the remaining two metrics are met:
- COVID-19 hospitalizations in the jurisdiction are low and stable, in the judgment of Cody
- The seven-day average of new cases per day is at or below 550 for at least a week.
While overall case rates have declined significantly since their January peak, according to the latest county statistics, COVID-19 continues to circulate widely, and case rates are still higher than at any other time in the pandemic prior to the January Omicron peak.
The current seven-day average case count is 1,922 cases per day, which is in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highest level of community transmission, the county reported. Hospitalization rates likewise remain high, and are not yet falling.
The state will lift its universal indoor masking requirement Feb. 16, but will still continue to require universal indoor masking in many settings after Feb.16, including all K-12 schools, childcare facilities, public transit, healthcare facilities, shelters, jails, and long-term care facilities.
“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,” said Cody, who is the county’s public health officer.
“In the meantime, we need to continue to do what’s needed to keep our community protected,” Cody said in a statement. “Universal indoor masking is critical to protect our community, especially community members who are older or immunocompromised. Continuing to mask indoors should also allow our case rates to continue to drop quickly.”