Santa Clara's County decision to keep indoor mask mandate could further hurt businesses

Santa Clara County’s continuation of its indoor mask mandate could further impact the business climate, already weakened by the COVID pandemic

The county's decision has sparked another debate within industries where "to mask or not to mask" can make all the difference in the world.

"I have a couple, a few couples who are looking to get married in downtown San Jose. And we are currently debating whether we’re going to keep it here in San Jose or move it somewhere else," said Leanne Bybee.

The Willow Glen-based wedding planner said the COVID years have nearly crippled her five-year-old business.

Added to the uncertainty of tying the knot, there are now questions surrounding where or when a ceremony will take place.

"Santa Clara County has been pretty hard to navigate.  Not only for vendors but for our brides and grooms as well," said Bybee.

Wednesday, Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sarah Cody explained why the county is the only one in the Bay Area not to follow the state’s lead and end indoor mask mandates on Feb. 15.

"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 Cody.

The three metrics are: County vaccination rate, which sees 84% of eligible residents fully vaccinated; hospitalizations, which have plateaued, but have not started declining. And lastly virus transmission rates, which officials are waiting until cases drop from nearly 1,800 per day to 550 per day for an entire week, before ending indoor masking.

"The big issue is whether we’re going to have a big impact on catering and hospitality businesses generally," said Dr. Robert Chapman Wood, a strategic management professor at San Jose State University.

He fears the so-called "little guy" could suffer disproportionately due to continued COVID mandates.

"So you could have people in the region who don’t deserve to be hurt. While the tech industry, which is able to work remotely, is doing just fine," said Wood.

Bybee said some couples are moving their special day out of the county, out of the Bay Area and out of the state.  And others are pushing the date out – some now planning to exchange vows, in 2024, hoping by then, COVID is a distant memory.

"We just don’t have the money to keep re-pushing thing out. Paying for deposits on venues we’re not even going to use this year or not even in 2023," she said.