After pressure, Bay Area COVID-19 mask mandate could end soon

After increasing pressure from elected officials and members of the public, health officers in the San Francisco Bay Area reportedly plan to announce criteria for when indoor mask mandates can be lifted.

Eight of the nine Bay Area counties — San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara, Marin, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Napa and Sonoma — require all residents, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in all indoor settings.

“It is no accident that transmission is slowing in Sonoma County. Public health interventions, including the masking requirement, are working,” Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said in a statement to The Press Democrat on Thursday. “We believe that health orders, along with vaccination, outreach and education are all adding layers of protection against COVID-19 in our community — and saving lives.”

During Tuesday board of supervisors meetings in Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, health officials said that they hope to announce a system of shared metrics by the end of the week.

"It wouldn't be a single metric; there a few things that we need to consider," said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. "We need to look at the case rates to make sure they're low and stable, we need to look at the impact on hospitals, and we need to look at some sort of measure of vaccination and protection in a population."

Cody added that some counties could meet the metrics sooner than others, so some counties could keep the mandate in place longer than others. During a previous Board of Supervisors meeting, Cody had a tense exchange with Supervisor Susan Ellenberg on the lack of criteria for when the mask mandate could be lifted.

In response to Cody's announcement, board President Mike Wasserman said the "No. 1 question" he's asked by constituents is "when can we go maskless," and said he looks forward to "finally turning the corner to becoming a maskless Santa Clara County."

"My guess is Santa Clara County will be within all of those metrics," he said, citing the county's low case rates and high vaccination rate.

There's a chance Wasserman ends up disappointed, depending on what thresholds the county health officers decide to set.

Even with declining case rates, most Bay Area counties are still listed as having "substantial" spread on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's county-by-county data tracker. Masks are recommended indoors in counties with "substantial" spread.

If Bay Area counties follow the CDC metrics, mask mandates likely won't be lifted immediately.

The Press Democrat contributed to this report.

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