San Francisco to lift some mask rules Oct. 15, other Bay Area counties outline plans for rollback - San Francisco Chronicle

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San Francisco will loosen its mask mandate on certain indoor spaces on Oct. 15, and the county along with seven of its neighbors will mostly remove local mandates once they reach low COVID case and hospitalization rates and at least 80% of the total population is fully vaccinated, according to a set of criteria released by health officers Thursday morning.

The eight Bay Area counties with indoor mask mandates currently in place must reach moderate levels of transmission as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and low hospitalization rates as defined by the local health officer. In counties that haven’t reached 80% of the population vaccinated, the orders may be lifted three weeks after children ages 5-11 are granted access to vaccines.

San Francisco will partially lift its mask mandate a week from Friday, assuming local COVID cases and hospitalizations remain stable or decline over the next week. At that time, people may stop wearing masks at indoor spaces that require proof of vaccination — including gyms, offices and places that host small gatherings — as long as no children under 12 are present and other ventilation and safety measures are in place.

Piper Lind wears a mask and decorated costume while welcoming masked customers to Cliff's Variety on Castro Street in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Piper Lind wears a mask and decorated costume while welcoming masked customers to Cliff's Variety on Castro Street in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

The criteria announced Thursday apply to Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties, which all reinstated indoor mask mandates in August amid the delta surge. Solano County did not put in place a local mandate.

The state mandate that requires masking in schools and health care settings remains in place indefinitely. Unvaccinated people must continue to wear masks in virtually all public indoor settings, in accordance with state rules.

“I’m excited that we’re once again at a place where we can begin easing the mask requirements, which is the direct result of the fact that we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, our cases have fallen, and our residents have done their part to keep themselves and those around them safe,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a statement.

Bay Area health officials had come under increasing pressure to ease the local mask mandates in recent weeks, as cases began to decline after the summer surge. Statewide, mandates had been lifted on June 15 when California reopened its economy.

None of the Bay Area counties are currently meeting the benchmarks they set for lifting mask mandates. All of them have “substantial” or “high” levels of local transmission as defined by the CDC. But case rates and hospitalizations have dropped significantly from the peak of the delta surge.

“I think the time is right to life the mask mandate using a phased approach,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert with UCSF, prior to the announcement. “It doesn’t mean we have a mask bonfire on Ocean Beach. I think what people want are metrics to follow to see a pathway out of where we are now.”

When Bay Area counties, excluding Solano, mandated masking in all public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status at the beginning of August, health officers told the public it was a “temporary” measure. The goal was to stem the rapid rise of cases and hospitalizations tied to the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus.

But before now, the health departments had not announced clear benchmarks for phasing out the new and reinstated COVID protocols.

“The goal of the criteria is to ensure that conditions are in place that will allow us to safely lift the restrictions,” said Dr. Matt Willis, the Marin County health officer, in a statement. “The mask requirement played an important role in gaining control the fourth wave. Still, our biggest asset is vaccinations. High vaccination rates will allow us to continue to ease restrictions safely, while providing greater protection for our community.”

Aidin Vaziri and Erin Allday are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: avaziri@sfchronicle.com eallday@sfchronicle.com

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