The masks come off on February 16 in Bay Area grocery stores, bars, restaurants, museums, and everywhere else whether you like it or not — but Santa Clara County will still be playing it safer.
In a somewhat surprising move, SF Mayor London Breed and the city's Department of Public Health announced Wednesday morning that the city will align with the state's guidance, announced Monday, to allow vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most indoor settings as of Wednesday, February 16. So, your Valentine's Day dinner dates will still involve masking up between table and bathroom, etc., but two days later, the masks come off once again — except on transit and in hospital settings.
"Starting February 16 in San Francisco, vaccinated people will no longer be required to wear masks in most indoor settings, including restaurants, bars, gyms, grocery stores, offices, museums, and other locations," Mayor Breed tweeted. "The unvaccinated will still be required to wear masks indoors."
And, she clarified, "Under state law, masks will still be required in some settings like hospitals, shelters, and schools. The state has indicated more information is coming on schools soon. Masks on buses and trains will be required per federal law."
In a tweet, the city's health department says that masks are still "highly recommended" in indoor settings, even if businesses choose not to require them — but here we go back to last June when you will leave the house without a mask only to find out a certain store is still going to make you wear one.
"Omicron was an immense stress test on our system, and although it presented many difficulties because of the sheer number of people who became infected, we made it through with schools and businesses open and without overwhelming our hospitals because we have built up strong defenses against the virus with our high vaccination and booster rates,” said SF Health Officer, Dr. Susan Philip in a statement. “We are able to take this next major step of removing the universal indoor mask requirement because we have laid a strong foundation in good public health protections and know we can prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths. We do want people to continue to be cautious and layer their defenses through masking and other measures when the situation requires."
Governor Gavin Newsom announced late Monday that the state would drop the universal indoor mask requirement as of February 16, a month later than was promised when the mask order was renewed in mid-December as the Omicron wave began. Four Bay Area counties — San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin — were allowed to maintain their exceptions for gyms and offices, but as COVID case counts began skyrocketing, those counties renewed their mask orders everywhere and rescinded the gym exception two weeks later.
Today's move to say that masks can come off next week, broadly and in all but a few indoor settings, runs counter to previous statements made by local health officers when indoor mask requirements were renewed during the Delta surge last August. At the time, the health officers agreed to metrics that would need to be met by a county before mask orders would be dropped, and these included seeing the county in the CDC's yellow tier for moderate virus transmission for at least two weeks.
All Bay Area counties remain in the CDC's red tier for high COVID transmission, even though case counts and hospitalizations have been dropping for the past two weeks.
Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody is taking a more cautious approach. She spoke to the county's board of supervisors on Tuesday and at a Wednesday morning news conference about why she was not recommending aligning with the state's guidance.
"Currently we are emerging from the omicron surge and it's been about a month since the peak and our cases and our case rates are 40 percent of what they were," Cody said, per KTVU. "But we still have very high levels of community transmission, still higher than at any other point in the pandemic pre omicron. And so the risk of being exposed to someone with COVID in our community is still high."
In total, 12 health officers across the Bay Area and counties to the south joined in today's announcement about dropping the mask mandate next week.
"Some people may understandably feel anxious about these changes to masking requirements," the officers said in a joint statement. "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."
Photo: Rod Long