San Mateo County to lift indoor mask mandate on February 16
In alignment with the State, San Mateo County is joining the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and the City of Berkeley in lifting universal mask requirements for most indoor public settings beginning Wednesday, February 16.
Neighboring Santa Clara County is keeping mask mandates in place and using its on metrics — vaccination rates, COVID hospitalization and cases — in lift the mandate. County health officer Dr. Sara Cody said that could be “in a matter of weeks, as case rates continue to decline.”
In all counties, unvaccinated individuals over age 2 will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings. Businesses, venue operators and hosts may determine their own paths forward to protect staff and patrons and may choose to require all patrons to wear masks.
The change aligns with the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) decision to let expire the statewide indoor mask requirement, which was instated on December 15 during the latest COVID-19 surge. Indoor masking is still required by the State for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in public transportation; health care settings; congregate settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters; long term care facilities; and in K-12 schools and childcare settings.
In San Mateo County, the level of virus transmission remains high but has come down considerably from an early January peak. The 7-day lagged case rate average reported by the State on Monday was 85 cases per 100K in the population, compared to 144 a week ago. Since the 7-day peak of 239 cases per 100K population on January 8, the case rate has declined by 64%.
Bay Area health officers, in alignment with CDPH, continue to strongly recommend masks be used as an effective tool to prevent the spread of the virus especially when case rates are high, or when additional personal protection is needed. Continuing to mask in indoor public settings, especially crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, remains the safest choice for an individual and protects those who are medically vulnerable or are not able to get vaccinated, like very young children. As evidence continues to show, vaccinations and boosters remain the best defense against the virus.
The highly contagious Omicron variant brought on a new stage of the pandemic with a high number of new infections, but significantly fewer cases of life-threatening illnesses, especially for those who are vaccinated and boosted. While relaxing indoor masking requirements is part of a population-level shift toward a “new normal” of living with the disease, the Health Officers recognize that essential workers and communities of color continue to be highly impacted by COVID-19 and will need additional support to limit widening health disparities. Changes to health orders and recommendations may be updated as Health Officers follow the science and the data to evaluate whether additional protective measures may be needed as the virus evolves and if future surges occur.
People should continue to choose layered prevention strategies, such as wearing well-fitted masks (N95 or double layer cloth over surgical are best); staying home and testing when symptomatic; testing before gatherings; and improving indoor ventilation in situations where these strategies can add protection for themselves and others. Staying “up to date” on vaccinations, meaning primary series and boosters when eligible, remains the most important way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
“As public restrictions and mandates diminish over time, it is incumbent on all of us to continue to take appropriate precautions,” said San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow. “As much as we all would like the issues surrounding COVID to be over, they are not. COVID continues to cause a lot of serious disease and death.”
By aligning with the state masking rules, the participating Bay Area counties will not need to meet previously established criteria for lifting local masking orders, which were devised at a different point in the pandemic.
CDPH continues to require masking in K-12 school settings but has indicated adjustments to the state’s policies will be shared in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there is work to be done in closing the remaining gaps in vaccinations and boosters among children with a particular focus on equity gaps within the most highly impacted communities.
For early education programs, such as preschool and childcare settings, CDPH continues to require masking for children older than age two. Vaccinations for children under 5 are currently undergoing federal review. Workplaces will continue to follow the COVID-19 prevention standards set by CalOSHA.
“Wearing a mask in indoor public settings and in crowded settings is still a good idea and something we strongly recommend,” said Dr. Morrow. “If you are not vaccinated or have not received a booster, getting the shot right away is the best thing you can do to protect yourself, your family and your community from COVID.”
Some people may understandably feel anxious about these changes to masking requirements in the county. People can continue to choose to wear face coverings around others whether it’s mandated or not and should respect people’s choices around their health.
Community members who are vaccinated and choose not to mask should respect the choices of those who continue to mask. Officials ask residents and visitors to be kind and respectful as people evaluate their risks and make choices to protect themselves and those around them.