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COVID-19

Napa County to relax mask requirement for vaccinated people Feb. 16

Updated at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday — Napa County will join 10 other Bay Area counties next week in lifting mask-wearing mandates in public indoor areas for people vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Effective Feb. 16, California counties will be allowed to end the masking requirement the state-imposed Dec. 15 as the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 sparked the latest infection surge of the two-year-long pandemic.

In a statement released at 10:53 a.m., Napa County jointly announced the more lenient masking rules with Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties, along with the city of Berkeley.

Individual counties may continue to require indoor masking, and the mandate will stay in effect for unvaccinated people over age 2, as well as in public transit and in group living settings including nursing homes and homeless shelters. Businesses and hosts also may choose to require mask-wearing in their establishments.

Masks also remain mandatory in K-12 schools, although California officials have indicated they are reconsidering that requirement and may make changes in the coming weeks.

For now, the lone Bay Area holdout is Santa Clara County, where county health officials argue that lifting local indoor mask requirements would present an unnecessary risk to residents who are vulnerable to the virus.

Santa Clara County public health officials expect to lift most indoor mask requirements for vaccinated residents “in a matter of weeks,” once the county's seven-day average of new cases per day falls below 500 for at least one week and Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody deems hospitalizations in the county to be “low and stable.”

State health officials have cited a recent decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to justify relaxing the masking requirement, which has been in force across California throughout the winter and has been the rule for most of the Bay Area since August, when the Delta form of the virus was fueling a summertime surge.

In announcing the relaxation of masking rules, Napa County’s public health officer Dr. Karen Relucio cited the resilience of the health care system and the ability of schools and businesses to stay open during the latest Omicron-fueled surge, as well as wider availability of vaccines and testing.

“Moving forward, we are transitioning our response to live with COVID-19, as testing, vaccine eligibility and treatment options become more available, while acknowledging that we are not in an endemic phase yet,” she said in the statement. “For now, while COVID-19 continues to circulate at high levels in our community, a combination of public health strategies — including mask use, vaccination, boosters, staying home when sick, and testing — will continue to offer important additive protections.”

Relucio nonetheless encouraged Napans to continue wearing masks indoors as the best way to protect the medically vulnerable and those who cannot be vaccinated, including the youngest children.

Neither Napa nor other Bay Area counties will rely on the road map announced in October for lifting local masking orders, Relucio said. Those standards included bringing the number of new COVID-19 cases down to the “moderate” tier of fewer than 50 infections a week per 100,000 residents and fully vaccinating at least 80% of county residents. (Napa County’s rate of full inoculation stood at 75.6% as of Wednesday, with 57% of eligible Napans also receiving booster doses.)

After steadily increasing throughout the new year, COVID-19 cases in Napa County dropped for the first time last week, falling 30% to 1,394 for the week ending Feb. 3. On Wednesday, the county confirmed 279 new infections and reported 21 people were in local hospitals due to the virus — in line with the numbers from recent days — with 30% of the county’s intensive care beds available.

In announcing the impending rule relaxations Feb. 7, state officials also announced that Indoor “mega-events” with more than 1,000 people will have to require vaccinations or negative tests for those attending and those who are unvaccinated will be required to wear masks. For outdoor events with more than 10,000 people, there is no vaccination requirement but masks or negative tests are recommended.

Those thresholds increase from the current 500 attendees for indoor and 5,000 attendees for outdoor events. The increased threshold comes after Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, which will draw as many as 100,000 football fans to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood outside Los Angeles.

Napa County’s highest-profile mega-event is the annual BottleRock music festival, which has drawn tens of thousands of spectators to the Napa Valley Expo since 2013 but was canceled in 2020 earlier in the pandemic. BottleRock returned in early September and drew an estimated 120,000 spectators over three days, as promoters required proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test to enter.

California is joining other states in loosening mask-wearing orders, nearly two years after COVID-19 began triggering stay-home orders and social distancing requirements across the nation.

On Wednesday, Illinois announced that face coverings will no longer be required to enter supermarkets, restaurants or other indoor venues starting Feb. 28, although mask requirements will stay in place at schools, as in California. New York state also announced it would let its masking rule expire Thursday for non-school indoor settings, although county and city rules — such as New York City’s vaccination requirement to enter offices, restaurants and theaters — can stay in place.

With reports from Bay City News Service and The Associated Press.

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You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

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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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