We're getting back near the late-pandemic territory we were in back in June, though San Francisco isn't quite there yet — with hospitalizations coming down but still well above where they were in mid-June and early July.
Case counts are also sliding back down in the Bay Area to where they were when we were still all wearing masks and staying home more — though they're not quite as low as May, when many more restrictions were still in place and most bars and clubs were still closed. Still, experts like Dr. Monica Gandhi agree that we're entering a phase of endemic COVID, when cases are never really going to be zero, but most infections — especially among the vaccinated — aren't that severe and hospitals don't get overwhelmed with patients. The vast majority of documented new cases in the Delta surge were still among the unvaccinated, and across the Bay Area, vaccination rates are high and only getting higher.
Also, as of yesterday, California as a whole entered the CDC's "moderate" tier for COVID transmission, becoming the only state in the nation with that distinction this week. And when the mask mandates were re-recommended by the CDC in July, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recommended them for states in the "substantial" (orange) or "high" (red) tiers.
So, it's time again soon to let people take their masks off in more indoor situations, particularly if new cases don't look be spiking again (though who knows with the holidays, variants, and waning immunity without boosters).
Mayor London Breed tells the Chronicle today, "Hopefully we will make some adjustments [to the mask mandate soon] because I think it’s overdue."
Breed added, "I respect and follow the advice of my public health experts, but I think that especially in light of so many people being vaccinated and the decline in the numbers, I think that it’s appropriate and we’ll see what happens."
Throughout the pandemic, the Bay Area's health officers have largely worked in concert on these health orders — with the exception of Solano County's — and it sounds like they're doing that once more on the mask mandate. As Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody told the county board of supervisors today, "We have been discussing this among the health officers in the region and our intention and plan is to develop a set of metrics we all share that are common across the region as to when to lift indoor masking."
Dr. Cody added that the coalition of health officers is "getting very close and are hoping to have an announcement with details by the end of the week."
Those metrics are likely to include a combination of average daily new case rates, hospitalizations, and vaccination rates.
Some San Francisco business owners expressed frustrations two weeks ago when Mayor London Breed's maskless appearance in a Tenderloin club made national headlines — with some suggesting that lax enforcement of mask rules at bars is unfair to other types of businesses. And it would seem that despite San Franciscans (and vaccinated tourists) intermingling pretty widely for the last two months in restaurants, bars, and clubs, virus transmission has not increased and daily case counts and hospitalizations have continued to slide.
SFGate this week looked at the data on counties where masks were re-mandated in August versus those where they weren't, and overall case rates and peak hospitalizations were not extraordinarily different between the two — Solano County's worse overall numbers look mostly likely to be tied to its low vaccination rate.
As the Chronicle reports, Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman told the board and Dr. Cody that he's eager for the mask mandate to lift because questions about when it's happening are what he's hearing most from businesses and constituents.
And, at this point, telling people to be patient is getting very repetitive.
Photo: Mark Konig