New mask rules come into effect Friday in SF and Marin. Here is what you need to know

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A limited easing of COVID-19 mask mandates will take effect Friday in San Francisco and Marin County, with Contra Costa County joining them on November 1.

A broader lifting of mask restrictions in most Bay Area counties is further away – although Marin is on track to meet the required coronavirus benchmarks as quickly as possible.

Here’s what you need to know about what’s changed in the Bay Area mask mandates, and what changes are expected down the line.

What is changing now

Starting Friday, people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks in some indoor environments in San Francisco and Marin County, where the same fully vaccinated group gathers.

This includes offices, gymnasiums and fitness centers, employee commuter vehicles, religious gatherings, and indoor college classes of no more than 100 people. Operators of such spaces can still choose to impose their own restrictions on facial coverage, according to health officials.

San Francisco and Marin County will still require indoor masking in places for the general public (think restaurants and retailers). Masks can come off if you actively eat or drink. Lifting mask rules at these sites will take longer, in line with criteria set out by officials in the wider Bay Area.

Who is affected now

Fully vaccinated people can remove their masks in these limited “stable cohort” settings in San Francisco and Marin County, where fully vaccinated people congregate. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people (a single dose of Pfizer or Moderna) should always wear masks indoors as per state guidelines.

What was the response from the major employers?

One hope for the lifting of the mask mandate for vaccinated offices is for more people to return to work, helping to revitalize city centers. While generally encouraging the mask movement in San Francisco and Marin, Rufus Jeffris, a spokesperson for the Bay Area Council, said most employers would likely adopt cautious steps in their plans to return to the office.

Facebook and Google, two of the Bay Area’s largest employers, both of which belong to the Bay Area Council, say their existing mask policies will not change just yet.

What rules are still in place?

In San Francisco and Marin, all people must continue to wear masks in indoor public places where the population that frequents the business or institution changes. Think of restaurants and retailers.

In Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties, nothing has changed yet. Indoor masking is still mandatory for all people aged 2 years and over in all public spaces, regardless of their vaccination status, with the exception of people with certain medical conditions, disabilities and hearing impairments. .

Solano County has not issued a mask warrant for those vaccinated. The cities of Benicia and Vallejo have promulgated their own universal mask mandates, in line with other Bay Area counties – these rules only apply within city limits.

Under federal and state rules, masks are required in California for people on planes, trains, buses, ferries, taxis, rideshare and other forms of public transportation, transportation hubs, health care facilities, state and local correctional facilities and detention centers, shelters and cooling centers, and indoors in youth facilities, such as K-12 schools, daycares and day camps.

What happens next?

Contra Costa County will join San Francisco and Marin in the limited waiver of mask requirements on November 1.

But the Bay Area has also instituted guidelines to largely remove the requirement to cover the face. Each jurisdiction must meet three criteria:

• Low community transmission as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Case rates must be in the yellow / moderate level for three consecutive weeks.

• Low hospitalization rates as defined by county health workers.

• At least 80 percent of the total population must be fully immunized, or if the county does not meet this threshold, there must be a vaccine available for emergency use for children aged 5 to 11 years for at least at least eight weeks.

Which counties are on the verge of getting rid of their indoor mask mandates altogether?

Marin County is closest to meeting regional requirements to widely lift its mask rules for fully vaccinated people.

Marin is so far the only Bay Area county to meet the key 80% vaccination threshold. The rest of the Bay Area counties, where vaccination rates range from around 66% to 75%, do not expect to reach this target for several months.

Marin was also in the CDC’s “moderate” transmission county this week, and if he stays there for three weeks, he will almost certainly meet the criteria.

Seven of the other nine counties in the Bay Area remain in the “substantial” transmission category, labeled in orange on the map. Napa County is the only obstacle in the region stuck in the worst “high” transmission category, which is red.

How safe is it to remove your mask where it is now allowed?

Infectious disease experts are divided over the safety of removing a mask indoors. On the one hand, gym goers exhale heavily, and office workers can sit close to each other. As the weather gets colder, people are more likely to snuggle up to warm up and celebrate the holidays indoors.

On the other hand, if a space was well ventilated and people were energetic in testing and staying home if they felt sick, it could be safe to be inside. Experts told The Chronicle that immunocompromised people and the elderly who have not yet received a booster should assess their own sense of risk and wear a mask inside if they are more comfortable with it.

Gwendolyn Wu is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]


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