Two weeks behind San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, Santa Clara County will be lifting its indoor public mask mandate next week — though, like the rest of the region, unvaccinated people are still on the honor system and supposed to be masking up.

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said Thursday that she expects the county will be able to lift its indoor mask mandate for most public spaces on March 2.

"We are on track,” Dr. Cody said. “And given the steady decline in cases that we continue to see, I’m confident we’ll be able to lift the masking requirement on [Wednesday]."

"Sticking to our metrics has helped to ensure that everyone in our community is protected – the elderly, young children, essential workers, and those who are immunocompromised – as our community transmission settles down," Dr. Cody said.

She added, "I look forward to the day when we can all comfortably take off our masks inside."

Two weeks ago, on February 9, Dr. Cody gave a press briefing to explain why she was keeping the mask order in place while the rest of the nine-county region was lifting its mask rules.

A main reason: Hospitalizations in the county were not yet "low and stable," which was a requirement the county set back in October for any lifting of the mask mandate.

"We've not yet met this metric as our hospitalizations have plateaued, but are not yet on their way down," Cody said at the time. She further explained that the county had adjusted the metric being used for community transmission in light of the differences between the Omicron and Delta variants. Rather than waiting for the county to remain in the CDC's yellow or "moderate" tier for transmission for three weeks, the county is aiming for its seven-day moving average new case rate to be below 550, which it currently is.

As the Mercury News reports, the seven-day moving average was 504 cases as of Thursday, and Cody says she expects this to continue trending downward.

Some cautious business owners in Santa Clara County have cheered Dr. Cody's conservative approach, which lines up with another large urban county in the state, Los Angeles. LA County announced earlier this week that its mask mandate would become optional for businesses as of Friday, with cases and hospitalizations trending downward there as well.

Masks in schools remain a state-level policy, along with the state's mandate that masks still be worn on public transit, and in healthcare settings, including hospitals.

Dr. Cody has remained one of the more cautious voices — and one of the most respected — in public health across the state, and she was instrumental in getting the nine-county region to lockdown as quickly as it did in March 2020. Santa Clara County is also the only one in the state to require booster shots for all high-risk employees who do not want to be reassigned to other jobs.

Meanwhile, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is pushing to have City Hall lift its requirement to show proof of vaccination and boosters to enter the building — something he said was useful during the Omicron surge but is no longer.

Over a week into the dropping of the mask mandate in eight Bay Area counties, new cases and hospitalizations continue trending downward.

As of Thursday, there were 845 patients with COVID in Bay Area hospitals, down from 895 on Wednesday. Local hospitalizations are down 50% since February 5, and the trend is being mirrored across California.

Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County Public Health/Facebook