Starting Wednesday, masks will not be required indoors in Santa Clara County.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody announced this significant milestone during a Tuesday news conference. She said the county and the state still strongly recommend wearing masks in all indoor public spaces.
“We know that as inconvenient as it may be, COVID is not inconsequential for many of us,” Cody said, noting many people are still at risk of severe disease or death if infected. “Which is why I want to say preventing infection is still a worthy goal, and we know masks are effective at preventing infection.”
As of Wednesday, Santa Clara County will be in alignment with the state’s requirements, which still mandate masks on public transit, in homeless shelters, health care and long-term care facilities and correctional institutions.
Cody hinted last week the county was close to scrapping its indoor mask mandate because of the dramatic decline in new COVID infections. As of Feb. 28, the county’s seven-day rolling average of new cases is 351. The county had to remain below 550 new infections for seven consecutive days to qualify for lifting the mask requirement.
Santa Clara County has some of the most stringent rules in the Bay Area when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Three weeks ago officials announced the county would retain the indoor mask mandate even as the state softened its own rules, which made it the only Bay Area county to continue this requirement.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced yesterday California is lifting its mask requirements for k-12 schools on March 12. Cody noted Santa Clara County hasn’t had county-level requirements for schools in more than a year and a half, so local districts will follow the state guidelines.
The state also lifted a requirement for unvaccinated individuals to be masked indoors, including in businesses.
“Individual businesses can certainly require patrons to mask,” Cody said. “They can certainly require employees to mask, and we’d certainly support that.”
Cody emphasized the county’s trends are moving strongly in the right direction, with community COVID transmission declining significantly over the last two weeks. Infection numbers have also dropped by a staggering amount compared to the peak in January caused by the omicron variant. As a testament to her confidence, Cody noted she spoke at the news briefing without a mask.
But she cautioned the pandemic will have peaks and valleys as infections rise and fall with the appearance of variants. She emphasized residents must be prepared for that by maintaining adequate testing and being ready to wear high-quality masks.
“Right now we’re coming into a lovely valley, we can all really enjoy that,” Cody said. “However, we probably will have another peak. The contours of that peak are not known to us.”