Three weeks after becoming the first California county to re-enforce the mask mandate in most indoor public spaces amid a spike in coronavirus cases and hospital stays, Alameda County has rescinded the order — citing improved conditions.
The move, which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, coincides with the San Francisco Bay Area’s second-most populous county advancing from the high to medium level of transmission of COVID-19 as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of which.
That agency recommends concealing public enclosed spaces for high-level counties, but not for mid-level ones.
In a statement Friday, county officials did not directly link the fate of the local mask order to the CDC classes, but instead said they were watching local trends closely and determined whether the authorization could now be lifted.
“Conditions have stabilized following the sustained increases in case reports and hospitalizations we’ve seen throughout May,” said County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss. “While we expect the effects from COVID-19 to continue in the coming weeks, and masks remain highly recommended, it is appropriate to step down from the health official’s concealment order at this time.”
During the seven-day period ending Thursday, Alameda County reported an average of 858 new coronavirus cases per day — a 9% drop from the past two weeks, according to data compiled by The Times. As of Thursday, 141 patients with coronavirus have been hospitalized countywide, including 15 in intensive care.
Alameda’s renewed mask mandate, which went into effect June 3, was the first time a California county had reissued such an order since the initial Omicron winter wave faded.
Although transmission has remained high since then, Alameda County ultimately proved to be an exception, not a harbinger. No other large county has followed the lead.
Even with the order lifted soon, Alameda County, like California as a whole, continues to strongly recommend hiding public enclosed spaces.
“Masks work and continue to be an important tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, especially when rates are high,” Moss said. “We strongly encourage everyone to continue to wear a mask to protect themselves and others from COVID.”
Los Angeles County health officials said they will reimpose the mandate for public indoor masks if the area falls into the community level for COVID-19 for two consecutive weeks. This category, the worst on the CDC’s three-tier scale, indicates not only significant transmission in the community but also that hospital systems may be strained by coronavirus patients.
Based on current hospitalization trends, Los Angeles County likely won’t reach that category until mid-July.
However, this projection “is based on the assumption of a continuous rate of increase that does not change, and that is really impossible to predict,” said Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“We are cautiously optimistic that we may stabilize and, in the best of worlds, we will start to see a decrease in hospital admissions sooner rather than later,” he told reporters Thursday. “But it’s hard to guess.”