Santa Clara County health officials announced Feb. 9 that local indoor masking requirements will not be lifted on Feb. 16, which is the date the state will rescind its order.
Instead, Santa Clara County will continue to base decisions on whether and when to lift indoor masking requirements on the risks posed by Covid-19, using metrics related to vaccination, hospitalizations and case rates.
Officials anticipate that the indoor masking requirements can be lifted in a matter of weeks, as case rates continue to decline.
The Public Health Department announced that it had updated its prior metrics, which were adopted when the Delta variant was circulating in the community, to reflect the fact that the current Omicron variant poses less risk of severe illness and hospitalization than Delta.
Specifically, the county’s prior metrics required that the seven-day average of new cases be approximately 150 or below based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “moderate” criteria. The updated metrics allow indoor masking requirements to be lifted when the county’s seven-day average of new cases is 550 or below for at least a week, and hospitalizations are low and stable.
The county has already met one of the three metrics for lifting the indoor masking requirement—that 80% of all county residents are fully vaccinated.
While overall case rates have declined significantly since their January peak, Covid-19 continues to circulate widely, and case rates are still higher than at any other time in the pandemic prior to the January Omicron peak, according to county data. The current seven-day average case count is 1,922 cases per day, which is in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s highest level of community transmission. Hospitalization rates likewise remain high, with 418 patients, and are not yet falling.
State health orders will continue to require universal indoor masking in many settings after Feb. 16, including all K-12 schools, childcare facilities, public transit, healthcare facilities, shelters, jails and long-term care facilities.
“We must continue to base our decisions on the risks Covid-19 presents to our community, and we look forward to lifting the indoor mask requirement as soon as we can do so without putting vulnerable people at undue risk,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer and Director of Public Health for the County of Santa Clara. “In the meantime, we need to continue to do what’s needed to keep our community protected. Universal indoor masking is critical to protect our community, especially community members who are older or immunocompromised. Continuing to mask indoors should also allow our case rates to continue to drop quickly.”
Wastewater readings, which researchers say are critical in predicting spikes of Covid-19 infections, show a decline in the quantity of SARS-CoV-2 genes, the virus that causes Covid-19, in South County. Readings from the South County Regional Wastewater Authority, which collects and processes waste from both Gilroy’s and Morgan Hill’s municipal sewer systems, show that levels of the virus have returned to mid-December levels after a peak in mid-January.