Santa Clara County not easing up on indoor masking yet

While the State of California and most of the Bay Area counties are relaxing mask mandates, two counties are bucking that course of action. That includes Santa Clara County.

Wednesday, officials there announced their mask rules will remain in place for the time being.

"Our job is to follow the science to keep our community as safe as possible and to ensure we continue to protect the people who are most vulnerable," said Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s health officer.

Cody said three key metrics are being used to determine when that county can align with the state in relaxing its indoor mask mandate.

The first is the vaccination rate, which the county has reached. 84% of residents are fully vaccinated. But the next two are works in progress.

Hospitalization rates have plateaued, but have not started declining. Cody hopes that will happen in the next few weeks. And virus transmission rates are manageable. But officials want to wait until cases are 550/day for an entire week, before declaring an end to required indoor masking.

"We’re taking a different course in Santa Clara County in that we’re continuing to follow our data and metrics to tell when it’s appropriate to unmask," said Dr. Cody.

Santa Clara is the only Bay Area county not following the state in ending required indoor masking Feb. 16. In Southern California, Los Angeles County’s health officials said they also intend to keep theirs in place beyond the state deadline.

"The news was surprising in one way. And not surprising in another. Santa Clara County has always been on the conservative side of things," said Nate LeBlanc, business development manager for the Downtown San Jose Association.

San Francisco health officials, Wednesday, said a sharp decline in hospitalizations, coupled with few people suffering in ICUs is allowing them to follow in the state’s footsteps. Still, Dr. Susan Philip said everyone must remain vigilant.

"It is always possible that there will be an additional variant or some new condition that will require us to revisit. And that is what we will continue to do," said Philip, the health officer.

The fact that Santa Clara remains the lone hold-out in the Bay concerns some South Bay businesses leaders, who’ve still not recovered from a depressed holiday season..

"This has had a tremendous drain on the downtown environment in general. And on the small businesses that I work with closely," said LeBlanc. "I do think there is a sense of resignation about this. And what good does being angry do at this point?"

Cody said she hears the concerns but also knows the danger of returning to normal too soon, only to have to reinstitute restrictions.

"I am hopeful that with omicron continuing to decline that it won’t be too long before our hospitalizations are low and stable. And our community transmission to transition indoor masking from a requirement to a strong recommendation," said Cody.

All the health officers stress even if there’s no mask mandate, it’s still recommended that vaccinated people wear a mask indoors. And, mask mandates remain in effect in schools, mass transit, nursing homes, jails, and for the unvaccinated.