Santa Clara County sets conditions for removing indoor mask mandate
Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody speaks about criteria to rescinding the indoor mask mandate on Oct. 7. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Santa Clara County has set the stage for lifting health orders that require face coverings in most indoor public places.

Public health officers announced on Thursday that nine Bay Area jurisdictions can remove their indoor mask mandates under certain conditions.

“Whenever possible, our aim was to adopt a metric that would be easy for the public to follow along,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County public health officer.

To qualify, a jurisdiction must remain in the moderate COVID-19 transmission tier for three weeks; COVID-19 hospitalizations must be low and stable and 80% of the jurisdiction must be fully vaccinated. Alternatively, a jurisdiction can lift the mandate eight weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by federal and state authorities for 5-to-11-year-olds.

As of Thursday, 84.2% of Santa Clara County residents over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated, and 89% of eligible residents have at least one dose. The seven day average for new cases is 159.

According to Cody, 72.4% of the entire county population—including ages 11 and under—is fully vaccinated.

“We as a region, our public has by and large embraced the COVID prevention measures that we’ve talked about and asked everyone to do,” Cody said. “And because of that our rates are fairly low. We have had a fourth surge, but it has been relatively blunted compared to the experience of other parts of the state and country.”

Cody explained that the county is updating its public COVID-19 dashboard to show the percentage of the total population that is vaccinated. And when it comes to judging if hospitalizations are low and stable, that’s at the discretion of the public health officer.

“That’s not one you’re going to be able to track on our public dashboard,” Cody said. “It has a lot to do with capacity in the jurisdiction… In Santa Clara County, our (hospital) capacity is on the robust side. So that metric is going to be fairly simple for us to meet.”

Santa Clara County, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Sonoma and the city of Berkeley established indoor mask mandates, regardless of vaccine status, in early August following a surge in new infections due to the Delta variant of COVID-19.

“People have been asking me about (the mask mandate) for two weeks now. It has been a mystery, but it’s good that we have some answer now… These are reasonable metrics,” George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco, told San José Spotlight. “It’s good that they also add the metric about moderate COVID transmission tier for three weeks, that means we won’t be jumping back and forth.”

Lifting the indoor mask mandate does not prevent businesses, nonprofits, churches or others with public indoor spaces from imposing their own requirements. The federal government still requires people riding public transit to wear masks and passengers will not be allowed to board VTA vehicles without one unless they are exempt. Federal law also requires masks at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter. Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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