Silicon Valley nears goal to lift local indoor mask mandate

Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County, Health Officer and Director of Public Health.
Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County, Health Officer and Director of Public Health removes a mask before speaking during a news conference in San Jose, Calif., Santa Clara County may lift its universal mask mandate in the coming days. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
(Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
Share via

Santa Clara County, Northern California’s most populous, could lift its local indoor mask mandate as soon as next week, as coronavirus transmission continues to tumble across the region.

The home to Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County is one of several local governments in California that opted to retain a universal indoor mask mandate even after the expiration of a statewide order. Others include Los Angeles and Mendocino counties and the city of Palm Springs.

According to data updated Thursday, Santa Clara County has averaged 501 new coronavirus cases a day over the last week — well below its goal of 550. Should the county stay under that level for seven consecutive days, the local indoor mask order will be lifted.


“We are on track, and given the steady decline in cases that we continue to see, I’m fairly confident that we will be able to lift the masking requirement on March 2,” Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health director and health officer, told reporters Thursday.

Even though there may no longer be a mask mandate, experts say it still makes sense to wear them inside because they offer strong protection.

Feb. 24, 2022

That would mean masks would become optional for vaccinated people in many indoor settings, including supermarkets, restaurants, bars, gyms and offices, unless the businesses decide to retain their own face covering requirement.

Officials will still strongly recommend masks in indoor public spaces.

“I look forward to the day when we can all comfortably take off our masks inside,” Cody said.

California and federal masking requirements will still be in effect, mandating mask use in certain places, such as in healthcare settings, indoors at K-12 schools and childcare facilities, and public transportation.

Even compared with other parts of the typically COVID-cautious Bay Area, Santa Clara County has been slower to lift its indoor masking rules this time. The rest of the region relaxed such requirements last week, in alignment with the wider state order being lifted.

Cody’s stance has come under criticism from one member of the Board of Supervisors, Cindy Chavez, who said the county’s implementation of stricter mask rules than the state results in a “level of confusion, consternation and stress.”


Most of the Bay Area will lift local indoor mask rules next week, with officials saying that the danger from COVID-19 has fallen enough to safely take the step.

Feb. 9, 2022

Cody, one of the key architects of the nation’s first regional stay-at-home order related to the pandemic, has defended her position as appropriate to reduce risk.

“Masking overall helps to decrease the community transmission, which is still important,” she said. “If you prevent infection, you are preventing long COVID. … And also, there are, of course, a number of people living in our community who remain vulnerable for whatever reason because of age or underlying medical condition or vaccination status. And they still need another layer of protection until the community transmission abates a bit.”

Santa Clara County has already met two other goals Cody set to lift the local indoor mask mandate, which was implemented in August: getting coronavirus-positive hospitalizations at a low and stable level, and getting at least 80% of residents of all ages fully vaccinated. Santa Clara County now has about 85% of all residents vaccinated.

“If we see in our data that the level of community transmission is rising — which, again we do not expect — then we would continue to require masks rather than convert to a recommendation,” Cody said. “But I want to just be very clear that the data that we are following looks very encouraging.”

The revised rules take effect 12:01 a.m. Friday and will make masking optional indoors in certain settings that screen the vaccination status of patrons.

Feb. 23, 2022

Santa Clara County’s goal is less stringent than the one set by L.A. County to lift its mask mandate. On a per capita basis, Santa Clara County’s goal is equivalent to getting under 200 new cases a week for every 100,000 residents.

L.A. County’s goal is stricter: It would lift its local mask mandate when the case rate is fewer than 50 cases a week for every 100,000 residents — equivalent to 730 cases a day — and remains that way for a week. That goal is consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of universal masking in indoor public areas when the case rate is above that level.


Santa Clara County’s goal was more relaxed than the CDC standard, Cody said, because “in general, people’s illness from Omicron tends to be less severe. And so, we felt that it was appropriate to modify that metric to the Omicron context.”

When will the pandemic end? Experts say it’s far too soon to declare victory.

Feb. 23, 2022

Public health officials have forecast that L.A. County will hit its goal to lift its mask mandate in mid- to late March. In the meantime, officials starting Friday are allowing fully vaccinated people to go maskless in many indoor public settings if the businesses or venues decide to screen the inoculation status of visitors and patrons.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer previewed the changes at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, saying this relaxation was based on some ideas suggested earlier by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who has been pushing for a faster easing of indoor mask mandates and has asked about loosening mask mandates at least in settings where everyone is vaccinated. Barger has urged the county Department of Public Health to adopt masking rules as lenient as the state allows.

It’s possible that a faster lifting of the overall indoor mask mandate in L.A. County could come sooner than expected.

The CDC on Friday is prepared to announce a significant loosening of federal masking guidelines, the Associated Press reported, meaning the vast majority of Americans will no longer live in areas where indoor masking in public is recommended, based on current data.

The CDC’s new guidance could end up affecting L.A. County’s decision on lifting the overall local indoor public mask mandate.


Ferrer said Thursday that she and other health officials will look at the CDC’s guidance when it’s released but added that it would take at least a few days to evaluate the federal agency’s newest recommendations. A proposed plan reacting to the CDC guidance will be discussed publicly with the county Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting, Ferrer said.

It will probably take a full week to discuss proposed changes to the mask order with business and labor groups, Ferrer said.