San Francisco's rules that allow for no masks at gyms, workplaces, and places of worship get to stand, because we've all been so good up until now.
Late Tuesday, SF's health officer Dr. Susan Philip announced that state health officials had granted exemptions for San Francisco and three other Bay Area counties from the renewed statewide mask mandate for all indoor spaces that takes effect today. For San Francisco and Marin counties, that means masks can remain off in certain indoor spaces according to local rules that took effect in October and November. In Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the state mandate also doesn't apply.
"We appreciate seeing that clarification from [our state health] colleagues," Philip said in a statement. "It’s a recognition of all of the thought and care that San Francisco residents have been putting into staying as safe as possible."
California's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, announced on Monday that a new statewide mask mandate was being imposed for the first time since June, amid rising case counts in some counties and the looming threat of the (apparently) highly contagious Omicron variant. The new mandate takes effect today (Dec. 15) and goes through January 15. But few cases have been detected so far in the Bay Area, and hospitalizations remain low here — and the state is acknowledging our generally high vaccination rates as well.
Meanwhile, many counties across the state reimposed no new mask rules amid the Delta spike over the summer, and vaccination rates in some of those counties are not great, which is necessitating the new state mask rules (that may or may not get followed).
"Given the current hospital census, which is at or over capacity, even a moderate surge in cases and hospitalizations could materially impact California’s health care delivery system within certain regions of the state," the state's Department of Public Health said in a statement this week.
In SF, as COVID case counts declined this fall and vaccinations rose, masks were allowed to come off in October in certain settings — namely gyms and fitness studios, college classrooms and offices where 100% of people are vaccinated, and religious and other organized gatherings not exceeding 100 people. Masks remain required in retail and other public spaces, and when entering or moving around bars and restaurants.
Starting November 1, Alameda and Contra Costa counties followed suit with similar rules, and Marin County broadly dropped its indoor mask requirement altogether as it reached more than 80% of the population fully vaccinated.
The Omicron variant still has the potential to change the calculus about vaccinations, but so far officials say that vaccinations still offer protection, and boosters moreso.
San Franciscans were likely to take the new mandate in stride — it was only set to last until January 15 — but gym-goers and gym owners are likely among the most relieved now that they've gotten used to not having masks on for two months.
"To have any disruption at all in the progress we’ve made over the last year and a half in getting customers back would have been devastating," said Dave Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness and spokesman for the San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition, in a statement to the Chronicle. He added that losing any potential New Year's resolution business "can literally make or break a small neighborhood gym."
It's sort of a moot point, given all the rules already in place in SF, but San Franciscans will still have to abide by the state's updated rule on events with 1,000 or more attendees — vaccinations required or proof of a negative PCR test less than 48 hours old. And the state is recommending that all persons flying into California get COVID-tested within three days of arriving.
Photo: Afif Kusuma