Bay Area health officers announce criteria to lift indoor mask mandate

Health officers for nine Bay Area jurisdictions on Thursday said in a joint-statement that they would lift indoor mask mandates when COVID cases and hospitalizations are low and when 80% of a county's total population is fully vaccinated.

Depending on the metrics they lay out, different counties may meet those metrics at different times, and some may not meet the necessary benchmarks until mid-December.

"That is a reasonable projection based on our current trends," said Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano. "We're looking at December or even January depending on the timing of that authorization."

Just about all Bay Area counties have more than 80% of eligible residents fully vaccinated. The city of Berkeley, which has its own health department, has one of the highest vaccination rates at 93% of residents age 12 and older fully vaccinated.  

But the new criteria demands that 80% of the total population is vaccinated.

Stefan Elgstrand, a spokesman for the mayor, told KTVU that according to Berkeley's own preliminary calculations, the city has an 81.7% total vaccination rate but city leaders still need to confirm they would be eligible for doing away with masks indoors. Even so, Elgstrand said Berkeley may end up aligning with what the rest of Alameda County does because "Because Berkeley is not a bubble." 

The total population of fully vaccinated for local counties Thursday was 77% in Marin, 74% in Santa Clara and San Francisco, 72% in San Mateo, 70% in Alameda and Contra Costa and 67% in Sonoma and Napa, according to CDC data.

The only Bay Area county that is doing things slightly different is San Francisco. 

San Francisco said it intends to ease its mask mandate on Oct. 15 in certain, limited settings so long as case and hospitalization rates remain stable or decline. These settings include offices, gyms, and religious gatherings that do not exceed 100 people. These settings must also have 100% full vaccination where children under 12 won't be there.

Other Bay Area counties are not doing the same.

"We are reviewing [San Francisco’s] decision and we’re discussing it internally, but no decision has been made at this time," Farnitano added.

Children younger than 12 aren't even eligible for vaccinations yet, although Pfizer and BioNTech on Thursday announced that they have formally submitted a request to U.S. regulators for emergency approval of their COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

The FDA's next meeting to decide on Emergency Use Authorization for the COVID vaccine for children is Oct. 26.

Health officials say they want to move slowly on purpose.

"Indoor masking has helped to lower case counts, hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths, so we don’t want to remove this important layer of COVID prevention too hastily," said Director of Public Health for the County of Santa Clara Dr. Sara Cody. "These regional metrics will help keep our community safe, and ensure that our case rates are low and stable, our hospitals are in good shape, and vaccination rates are robust."

Specifically, the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma and the City of Berkeley will lift the indoor masking requirement in public spaces when:

  • The jurisdiction reaches the moderate, or yellow, COVID-19 transmission tier and remains in that tier for three weeks.
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations in the jurisdiction are low and stable.
  • 80% of the jurisdiction’s total population is fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson or eight weeks after the COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by federal and state authorities for 5- to 11-year-olds.

The indoor mask mandate has been in effect in the Bay Area since early August.

The health officers said that businesses, nonprofits, churches or others with public indoor spaces could impose stricter rules if they chose too.

California’s health guidance for the use of face coverings may remain in effect after local masking requirements are lifted, meaning that people who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 must continue to wear masks in businesses and indoor public spaces.

The state also requires face coverings for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in healthcare facilities, public transit and adult and senior care facilities.

California’s masking guidelines in K-12 schools would also not be affected by changes to local health orders. However, the California Department of Public Health had said this summer that they would revisit the issue of mask mandates for school children by Nov. 15.