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Bay Area health officers issue criteria for lifting COVID-19 indoor masking requirements

As COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations decline, health officers for the nine Bay Area jurisdictions that require face coverings in most indoor public spaces today reached consensus on criteria to lift those health orders.

As decisions to vaccinate and wear face coverings indoors drive down COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations, health officers for the nine Bay Area jurisdictions that require face coverings in most indoor public spaces today reached consensus on criteria to lift those health orders.

These health officers continue to work together across the Bay Area to protect public health with a consistent regional approach, and to plan for the next phase of response to COVID-19 as this wave of the pandemic ebbs.

The counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma and the City of Berkeley will lift the indoor masking requirement in public spaces not subject to state and federal masking rules when all the following occur:

  • The jurisdiction reaches the moderate (yellow) COVID-19 transmission tier, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and remains there for at least three weeks; AND
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations in the jurisdiction are low and stable, in the judgment of the health officer; AND
  • 80 percent of the jurisdiction’s total population is fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson (booster doses not considered) OR eight weeks have passed since a COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by federal and state authorities for five- to 11-year-olds.

Most Bay Area health departments issued the masking requirements for their respective jurisdictions on August 3, following a summer surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

But with regional data showing that the surge is now receding, and with the Bay Area as one of the most vaccinated regions in the country, the Bay Area health officers agree it is time to plan for a transition.

Lifting a local indoor mask mandate would not prevent businesses, nonprofits, churches or others with public indoor spaces from imposing their own requirements. As COVID-19 easily spreads through airborne droplets, face coverings remain highly powerful in preventing its spread. 

Each jurisdiction will rescind its order when criteria are met in that respective county or city. The criteria were developed to assist in determining the safest time to lift the indoor masking orders, based on regional scientific and medical consensus. The criteria also provide safety for school children ages five to 11, who need the added protection of masks in the community to keep case rates low so they can remain in school until they can be vaccinated.

Separately from the other Bay Area jurisdictions, SF announced today a more immediate easing of masking requirements beginning on October 15 in certain, select indoor settings where stable groups of fully vaccinated people gather. SF has a proof of vaccination requirement to enter many indoor businesses, which is helping to slow the spread of the virus. More information about SF’s planned changes to its health order, to be issued later next week, can be found at: sfmayor.org/news.

As part of its criteria for universally lifting masks requirements, SF will also consider the equitable distribution of the vaccine among children of vulnerable and highly impacted communities when reaching the 80 percent vaccination threshold.

“Indoor masking has been an important part of our defense against the virus and helped us get through the most recent surge while keeping businesses open and bringing children back to school,” said SF’s Health Officer, Dr. Susan Philip. “We recognize that now is the time to begin taking steps toward easing some of the masking requirements in safer settings and planning for when we can safely lift them more broadly.”

California’s health guidance for the use of face coverings will remain in effect after local masking requirements are lifted, meaning that people who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 must continue to wear masks in businesses and indoor public spaces.

The state also requires face coverings for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in healthcare facilities, public transit and adult and senior care facilities. California’s masking guidelines in K-12 schools would also not be affected by changes to local health orders.

An FDA advisory committee is scheduled to consider an application from Pfizer-BioNTech to grant emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds on October 26.

For more information about SF’s COVID-19 emergency response and how to get vaccinated and other services, visit: sf.gov/covid.

Members of the media can contact DPH.Press@sfdph.org.