This week, Bay Area counties including Sonoma established clear benchmarks that, when met, would allow the easing of the indoor masking mandates for vaccinated residents marking a potential endpoint to the visual reminder that COVID-19 is still amongst us.
However, Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren told us that at this point it is “way too early for me to predict what will happen in the next few months–let alone to set expectations to remove masks.”
Some of the variables he said that will influence when these benchmarks will be identified include, “if our cases continue to decrease through the holiday season, [if] no variants of concern emerge and our hospitals are not stressed.”
Dr. Coren said the jurisdictions represented within the Association of Bay Area Health Officials where these benchmarks have been established are far different from Rural Association of Northern California Health Officials that represents Mendocino, Trinity, and Humboldt Counties. Two key differences between the jurisdictions that are influencing Dr. Coren’s analysis include “Our region’s vaccine rates and compliance with health orders are lower while our case rate is higher.”
We reached out to Public Health representatives in both Humboldt and Trinity County to get their thoughts on the consideration of these benchmarks to lift the indoor mask mandate
Meriah Miracle, a Public Information Officer for the Humboldt County COVID-19 Joint Information Center, could not provide a specific response to our inquiries and instead suggested the question be asked at Humboldt County’s virtual news conference next week.
Trinity County’s Public Health Branch Director Marcie Cudizol told us, “We will be meeting internally to discuss the metrics to be used beyond the case rate.” At this point, Cudziol said, Trinity County’s case rate remains high according to the CDC tracker.
Cudizol did point out a discrepancy between the CDC’s data regarding Trinity County’s case rate and the internally calculated case rate: “Our internal calculated daily case rate differs a bit from the CDC tracker which is 48/100K, this may be due to the 7 day cutoff. Our calculated daily cases sit as 43.7 per 100,000 for the 7 days 9-29 through 10-7 and constitutes a high daily case rate.”
The following are the benchmark established by the eight Bay Area counties that when met would allow the indoor masking mandates to be rescinded:
- Each participating county must be considered a “moderate” or “yellow” tier of community transmission for three weeks as designated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- This tier status is informed by a county’s case rates and positive test rates. The “yellow” tier case rate ranges from 10-49.99 per 100,000 people in the past seven days and a positive test rate from 5%-7.99%.
- One of the most unclear benchmarks states a health jurisdiction’s hospitalization rate must remain low, which is determined by the local health department.
- The last benchmark that must be met is 80% of the county’s total population must be fully vaccinated.
- If that metric is not met, the mandate can be lifted eight weeks after children ages 5-11 are authorized to be inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine.
If Mendocino County were to adopt similar benchmarks as described above, the indoor masking mandate would remain in place. The CDC still characterizes Mendocino County as having a “high” or “red” tier community transmission. Mendocino County’s positive test rate stands at 6.85% and 67.9% of the eligible population has been vaccinated, as per CDC data.
Humboldt County, as per CDC data is also considered an area of “high” or “red” tier community transmission with a 6.28% positivity rate and 65.1% of the eligible population vaccinated. Another point of the Emerald Triangle would remain masked indoors as per the current status of COVID-19 in the community.
Finally, Trinty County’s community transmission is also considered “high” or “red” tier. Interestingly enough, the CDC entry on Trinity County does not have the positivity rate nor the percentage of the eligible population fully vaccinated. That being said, the red tier designation would stop Trinity County from rescinding the indoor masking mandate as well.
While the rural north awaits the right conditions to begin the conversation of rescinding the indoor masking mandate, Dr. Coren said, “[V]accines and masking are the most accessible, safest, least expensive way to protect ourselves and others in this pandemic.”