Santa Clara County's indoor mask mandate will stay in place when the state lifts its indoor masking requirement next week, county public health officials announced on Wednesday.
Local health officials expect they will be able to lift indoor masking in a matter of weeks, as COVID-19 case rates continue to decline, they said.
County officials are basing their decisions on the risks posed by COVID-19, using defined metrics related to vaccination, hospitalizations and COVID-19 case rates, they said. The county isn't alone in its decision. Los Angeles County has also announced it will not immediately lift its local masking requirement. Most Bay Area counties, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and the city of Berkeley, plan to follow the state's mask-lifting plan starting Feb. 16.
"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. In the meantime, we need to continue to do what's needed to keep our community protected. 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," county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said.
The county previously announced its metrics for lifting local masking requirements in October, which were adopted when the delta variant was circulating in the community. On Wednesday, the Public Health Department said it had updated its prior metrics, based on the fewer risks of the current omicron variant, which has a lower chance of severe illness and hospitalization than delta, they said.
The October metrics required the seven-day average of new cases be approximately 150 or below, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "moderate" criteria before lifting the masking requirement. The updated metrics would lift indoor masking when the county's seven-day average of new cases is 550 or below for at least a week.
Santa Clara County has already met one of the three metrics for lifting the indoor masking requirement: 80% of all county residents are fully vaccinated. The local indoor masking requirement will be lifted when the remaining two metrics are met: COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county are low and stable, in the judgment of the health officer; and 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, 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 county's 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. Hospitalization rates likewise remain high and are not yet falling," the county said in its announcement.
The state said it will lift its universal indoor masking requirement on Feb. 16. State health orders will continue to require universal indoor masking in many settings, however, including all K-12 schools, child care facilities, public transit, health care facilities, shelters, jails and long-term care facilities.