By Ann Peterson
(Thursday, Oct. 7) An end to the indoor mask mandate for vaccinated residents now has a path forward – but it won’t come before November in Contra Costa County.
Eight Bay Area counties, including Contra Costa, and the city of Berkeley announced Thursday the criteria they will use to lift the indoor mask mandate in public spaces. The order also applies to Alameda, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma but is still subject to state and federal masking rules.
The criteria that an individual county must meet to lift the mask mandate are as follows:
- Must be in the moderate (yellow) COVID-19 transmission tier, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), for at least three weeks;
- COVID hospitalizations are low and stable;
- 80% of the county’s total population is fully vaccinated or eight weeks have passed since a COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use for 5- to 11-year-olds.
As of press time, Contra Costa fell short in two of those areas. Since Sept. 26, Contra Costa has been in the substantial (orange) tier on the CDC map, and only 71.1% of the total population is fully vaccinated. About 76% of the population has at least one shot in the two-dose regimen.
But active COVID cases have plummeted in recent weeks to 1,460, and hospitalizations are down to 76. That represents a drop of 35.1% and 27.4%, respectively, over the past two weeks.
“It is no accident that transmission is slowing in Contra Costa County. Public health interventions, including the masking requirement, are working,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa’s health officer. “We believe that health orders, along with vaccination, outreach and education, are all adding layers of protection against COVID-19 in our community – and saving lives.”
The public can track Contra Costa’s progress toward meeting the criteria on the county’s online dashboard tracker. Link: www.coronavirus.cchealth.org
Health officials decided it was time to plan for this transition beyond masks because the Bay Area as a region is one of the most vaccinated in the country.
“Contra Costa is coming back strong, thanks to so many of our residents making healthy choices, such as getting vaccinated, or doing the courteous thing and wearing masks in places where the risk of transmission is a little higher,” said Diane Burgis, chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. “I’m thankful for every resident who has done their part.”
Even when the county meets the criteria to lift the mask mandate, health officials noted that individual businesses, churches and other public indoor spaces would still be permitted to impose their own requirements.
California’s health order also would remain in place, meaning unvaccinated individuals would still have to wear masks inside. The same goes for anyone, regardless of vaccination status, visiting health care or senior care facilities and schools or riding public transit.
The eight Bay Area counties have been under the current indoor mask mandate since early August. Surging case numbers and hospitalizations due to the delta variant prompted the mandate about six weeks after vaccinated individuals were told they could stop wearing masks indoors as part of California’s reopening plan.
Since then, Contra Costa has taken other steps to curb the spread of the virus. Last month, the county began requiring residents to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test to enter indoor businesses such as restaurants and gyms.
Also, late last month, the county rolled out booster shots for those who had received the Pfizer vaccine and were 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities and those 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.
Starting Oct. 14, an FDA committee will begin discussing data regarding Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters, as well as the possibility of mixing vaccine brands.
Then on Oct. 26, that same committee will decide whether to issue emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
Earlier this week, health officials also said it is safe for people to get the flu and COVID vaccines at the same time, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises getting the shots in different arms if having multiple vaccines administered during the same visit.