SAN FRANCISCO — Indoor masking requirements in the San Francisco Bay Area will be eased for certain indoor public settings, including offices, gyms, college classrooms and churches, once counties reach low COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates and at least 80% of the total population is fully vaccinated, officials announced, Thursday.
The Bay Area, with among the highest vaccination rates and lowest case rates in the nation, has been cautious throughout the pandemic, when counties in the region issued the nation’s first stay-home order in March 2020.
After lifting some restrictions in the spring, public health officials in San Francisco, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo reinstated an indoor mask mandate in August as COVID-19 infections surged because of the highly contagious delta variant.
Cases have declined since then in the Bay Area, and officials have now agreed to start lifting mask mandates in some public spaces. The 80% vaccination rate includes the entire population, not just those 12 and older who are eligible for the shots. It will be up to each county to determine its own mask rules.
Such a change is likely weeks away in most areas, although San Francisco will begin easing the rules next week.
“Indoor masking has helped to lower case counts, hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths, so we don’t want to remove this important layer of COVID prevention too hastily,” said Santa Clara Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody.
In Contra Costa County, where 71% of the entire population is vaccinated, officials said it could be a while before people can actually start taking their masks off, given that vaccines for children ages five to 11 have yet to be approved.
“I want to make it very clear, we are not there yet and based on the criteria it will probably take a few more weeks before we can enter a store or restaurant without a mask,” Contra Costa County Supervisor Diane Burgis said.
In San Francisco, where 75% of the entire population is fully vaccinated, patrons of a wide array of businesses are already required to show proof of full vaccination, including offices, gyms and college classrooms. Mayor London Breed’s office said Thursday that mask requirements will be eased Oct. 15 for those and other settings with fewer than 100 people, as long as everyone can prove they are vaccinated, the place is well ventilated and no children under 12 are present.
Patrons at San Francisco bars and restaurants must still wear a mask inside, regardless of vaccination status, unless they are eating or drinking, Breed said.