You'll be able to take your mask off in certain indoor settings in the city of San Francisco starting next week, but across the Bay Area, mask orders will likely stay in place for most public settings through the rest of the year.

It sounds like Mayor London Breed got her way, in part, in urging the city's health officer to ease up on the mask mandate ten weeks after it was reinstated in August. A new city order today, separate from the announcement being made by a coalition of Bay Area health officers, says that San Franciscans can go unmasked at offices, gyms, religious gatherings, and indoor gatherings of friends or colleagues where 100% of people are fully vaccinated.

Bars and restaurants, therefore, will have to keep mask orders in place until further notice — even though most bars and clubs are not strictly enforcing the rule that you have to remain masked when walking around or while not actively drinking.

Dr. Susan Philip, the city's health officer, said in a statement, "We recognize that now is the time to begin taking steps toward easing some of the masking requirements in safer settings and planning for when we can safely lift them more broadly."

"I’m excited that we’re once again at a place where we can begin easing the mask requirements, which is the direct result of the fact that we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, our cases have fallen, and our residents have done their part to keep themselves and those around them safe," said Mayor Breed in a statement. "This is an important step forward for San Francisco, particularly for our downtown, because when I talk to office workers and business leaders one of the things I continue to hear is that they’re anxious to get back to a more normal routine at work where they can interact with their colleagues."

While SF's case numbers have not reached the very low levels they were at in June when the statewide mask mandate and other pandemic mitigation measures were lifted, they do continue to go down, along with hospitalizations. As of September 29, the last day for which data is available, there were 43 new COVID cases detected in the city, and the seven-day rolling average of new cases was 76.

Due to the Delta surge over the summer, an additional 71 COVID deaths occurred in San Francisco between July and September, bringing the cumulative total of pandemic deaths to 644 as of Wednesday.

Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of SF's Department of Public Health, used this opportunity to tout the city's successes in the pandemic.

"Throughout this pandemic we’ve implemented common sense measures like masking and vaccinations to protect us through four surges in COVID-19 while keeping hospitalizations manageable," Colfax said. "Tragically, other areas of the country have seen outcomes much worse than ours. San Francisco’s health orders and shared mitigation efforts have been successful in keeping us safer as a community, and a relaxation of masking orders is warranted. We’ll continue to follow the data and science where it leads us."

The coalition of health officers also announced Thursday the criteria by which Bay Area counties will be lifting mask orders.

They are:

  • The jurisdiction reaches the moderate (yellow) COVID-19 transmission tier, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and remains there for at least three weeks; AND
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations in the jurisdiction are low and stable, in the judgment of the health officer; AND
  • 80 percent of the jurisdiction’s total population is fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson (booster doses not considered) OR eight weeks have passed since a COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by federal and state authorities for five- to 11-year-olds.

While vaccination rates are high and growing higher in most parts of the Bay Area, the first criteria has not yet been met in any Bay Area county. Most of the nine-county region is in the "substantial" or orange transmission tier under the CDC's definition, including San Francisco, and Napa is currently in the "high" or red tier.

Also, most counties will have difficulty reaching 80% vaccination of all residents until vaccines are approved for children aged 5 to 11. San Francisco has vaccinated 83% of residents over the age of 12, but still only 75% of all residents, all ages.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images