When will Bay Area mask mandates be lifted? Answer could come this week

Several Bay Area counties are finalizing plans about when to lift indoor mask mandates. 

An announcement from health officers is expected to come Thursday, giving more details about when they might decide to drop indoor mask requirements for people who are fully vaccinated.

Officials spent the better part of Wednesday tweaking those details. But they warn it won’t take effect for weeks if all criteria is met.

Right now, all Bay Area counties with the exception of Solano county require people to wear masks indoors - regardless of their vaccination status.

The mandate went into effect in August, at the start of the delta surge.

MORE: Berkeley vaccination rate hovers near 100% mark

But now that cases and hospitalizations are down - and vaccination rates in most Bay Area counties are way up --a group of Bay Area health officers representing Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma counties, are expected to make an announcement about the criteria counties would have to meet to drop their indoor mask mandates.

"They’re creating their own criteria. And I would suspect that the criteria would be based on hospitalizations, cases, ICU capacity," said David Canepa, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

Santa Clara County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody also spoke on this topic, about when to relax restrictions at a supervisors meeting in her own county on Tuesday. 

"There are a few things we need to consider - looking at the case rates, to make sure they're low and stable, we need to look at the impact on hospitals, and we need to look at some sort of measure of vaccination and protection in the population," Cody said. "We're working on this as a region."

Canepa said those metrics also include the CDC’s level of community transmission remaining in yellow or lower for at least three weeks and at least an 80% vaccination rate.

"It seems reasonable. I would just say, people need to assess their own individual level of risk. Even if you’re vaccinated, we have seen some breakthrough cases," said Dr. Marcelle Dougan, a professor in the San Jose State University Department of Public Health and Recreation.

Indoor mask mandates returned for the seven million Bay Area residents in early August. This, after a surge in COVID cases linked to the delta variant swept through the region and state.

But Solano County has been the lone Bay Area holdout, opting not to initiate an indoor mask mandate.

"We saw no data to support that mandate," said Dr. Bela Matyas, the Solano County Public Health Officer. "In retrospect, it turns out we were right. Because our results, our data, are showing improvements faster than many of the counties that did impose mandates."

Officials in the other counties warn ending the mandate would not happen immediately, but perhaps several weeks down the road.

Canepa said lifting the mandate doesn’t require people to go maskless.