When will Santa Clara County ditch indoor masks?
Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody says Santa Clara County could lift its mask mandate as soon as March 2, provided new infections and hospitalizations remain low. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Santa Clara County residents might be able to shed their masks indoors as soon as next week, as the county is close to hitting all metrics to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

    Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer, said Thursday the region is heading in the right direction, as the seven-day rolling average of new COVID infections is at 501. The county must remain below 550 new infections for seven consecutive days in order for masking rules to ease up.

    Hospitalizations have also remained low and stable, Cody added, signaling the end of the omicron surge that came after the busy holiday season.

    “We are on track given the steady decline in infections that we continue to see,” Cody said.

    Santa Clara County, the most populous county in the Bay Area, has implemented some of the strictest rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. It announced two weeks ago it would retain its indoor mask mandate despite the state relaxing its rules, making it the only Bay Area county to continue requiring masks indoors.

    County officials cited the high number of infections and hospitalizations for maintaining the restriction, but the decision still drew mixed reactions from residents.

    County officials previously said they wanted to see the county hit three metrics before lifting the mandate, including a vaccination rate of 80%, moderate COVID-19 transmission rates and low and stable hospitalization rates.

    According to officials, Santa Clara County has achieved two of the metrics set forth as of this week—a vaccination rate of 84.7% and low and stable hospitalization rates. Santa Clara County also hit its metric around new daily infections for the first time Thursday, and officials anticipate cases will continue to plummet.

    “Our community has shown tremendous concern for each other by vaccinating and masking that has given us a level of safety and protection that will be durable,” Cody said. “I look forward to the day when we can comfortably take off our masks inside.”

    Under the state’s order, people who are vaccinated for COVID-19 can do away with their masks while frequenting shopping malls, restaurants and other public indoor settings. Unvaccinated people—as well everyone who uses public transit or enters K-12 schools, hospitals, jails, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities—will have to keep their masks on per state rules.

    The decision to retain the mask requirement has drawn criticism from lawmakers and residents, who said the stricter local rules might be confusing and overbearing. But others, including health experts, said continuing to mask up is now part of daily life.

    Los Angeles County, which also retained its mask rules despite the state lifting its order, is doing away with its mandate in some settings, officials announced Wednesday.

    “Our top priority as always is to protect the public and to tell you what we know when we know,” Cody said.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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