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Napa County, Bay Area health officers set road map to lifting COVID-19 indoor mask requirements

Napa County, Bay Area health officers set road map to lifting COVID-19 indoor mask requirements

Mask wearing in downtown Napa

Diners and waitstaff wore face coverings at an outdoor table outside a Main Street restaurant in downtown Napa in May. Napa County has joined eight other Bay Area counties and cities in announcing a road map to relaxing indoor mask requirements if COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations go down, and vaccination rates increase.

Napa and other Bay Area counties are looking ahead to relaxing local requirements to wear face masks in indoor public places, when coronavirus cases fall further and vaccination becomes more widespread.

Nine regional agencies, including Napa County, on Thursday announced a road map to lifting masking rules, which Bay Area governments imposed in early August amid a summer surge in COVID-19 infections. Health departments from Napa, Sonoma, Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara jointly announced the transition plan, as did the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley.

The Bay Area, with among the highest vaccination rates and lowest case rates in the nation, has been cautious during the pandemic, when counties throughout the region issued the nation's first stay-home orders in March 2020 to blunt the coronavirus’ spread.

The guidelines call for waiting on any rule changes until viral spread slows to “moderate” levels by federal standards for at least three weeks, hospitalization rates fall, and at least 80% of county residents receive full inoculation with one of the three federally approved COVID-19 vaccines.

Indoor masking requirements will be lifted only if all of the following occur:

- A county reaches the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “yellow” tier indicating a moderate rate of COVID-19 spread – between 10 and 50 new cases in the last seven days – and stays there for at least three weeks.

- Coronavirus hospitalizations remain low and stable as judged by the county public health officer.

- Either 80% of a county’s total population has received full doses of the two-part COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, or the one-dose vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson; or eight weeks have passed since a vaccine has received federal and state approval for 5- to 11-year-olds.

Each jurisdiction will relax its order when health criteria are met in that respective county or city.

Napa County remains in the CDC’s highest tier for COVID-19 spread, the “red” level indicating more than 100 new infections per 100,000 residents in the past week, according to county spokesperson Leah Greenbaum. The county reported 148 new cases Sept. 24-30, although weekly counts have declined from a summer peak of 324 in mid-August.

Later Thursday, the county Health and Human Services agency announced 33 new COVID-19 cases in its daily online update. Fifteen people were being treated for the virus at local hospitals, and 26% of the county’s intensive care beds were available.

Most health departments in the Bay Area reissued masking requirements Aug. 3 following an increase in COVID-19 cases, illnesses and deaths that began in June with the spread of a more contagious Delta variant of the virus, but caseloads have gradually ebbed since.

Lifting a local indoor mask mandate will not stop private enterprises like businesses, nonprofits and houses of worship from continuing to require masks at their own indoor areas, since the virus spreads readily by airborne droplets and masks remain effective in preventing its spread.

“The multilayered approach to reducing risk, including the indoor masking requirement and the ongoing progress of the vaccination campaign, has helped slow the transmission of COVID-19 in Napa County,” the county’s public health director Dr. Karen Relucio said in the joint statement. “Public health interventions add layers of protection against COVID-19 and save lives. Even if the indoor masking mandate is lifted, we still strongly recommend wearing masks in indoor settings.”

Since the pandemic’s arrival in California in early 2020, Napa County has closely tracked its local public health regulations to state policies, from its early stay-at-home orders to a mid-June reopening of the economy and the return of mask-wearing requirements this summer.

Other communities have gone further in their regulations. San Francisco in August became the nation’s first major city to require visitors to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before entering restaurants, bars, gyms and large public events. The Los Angeles City Council passed a similar mandate Wednesday, to take effect Nov. 4.

California guidelines on face coverings will stay in force even when counties relax their own requirements, and will require unvaccinated or partially inoculated people to continue wearing masks at businesses and public indoor spaces.

The state also will continue requiring mask use for all people, regardless of vaccination status, in health care facilities, public transportation, and adult and senior care centers. State masking rules in elementary, middle and high schools also would remain unchanged. (An advisory committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to meet Oct. 26 to consider Pfizer’s application to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.)

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Napa County Public Health Officer Karen Relucio updates residents on the latest developments regarding COVID-19. Video courtesy of Napa County.

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You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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