The frustration of leaving your mask in the car. The sudden realization you are outside and can take off the mask without fear of dirty looks or catching the virus. These experiences have permeated the COVID-19 pandemic and have fueled the tension and polarization aimed at masking protocols.
This division has come home to roost in the form of three divergent indoor masking policies put into place in Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties. Juxtaposed to proclamations of unity made by each county’s Sheriff when tasked with enforcing pandemic protocols, the fracturing of the Emerald Triangle’s public health policy represents both the local control that undergirds much of the pandemic response and the diverse perspectives on the path forward.
Let’s consider the least restrictive indoor masking protocol amongst the Emerald Triangle, Trinity County. A press release published Thursday, November 4, 2021, announced that the Trinity County Health Officer rescinded an August health order requiring face coverings in workplaces and public settings regardless of vaccination status.
Marcie Cudiziol, Trinity County’s Public Health Branch Director, told us Trinity County’s COVID-19 cases have been on a steady decline since late September. As to Trinity County residents and their cooperation with COVID-19 protocols, Cudiziol said “Overall the majority of our population have been supportive of protocols designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with it.”
Cudiziol did recognize that “there is a portion of our community that does not necessarily agree with these protocols as they see them as an infringement on their rights or are concerned with the safety of vaccines for example, and some just don’t trust the science.” Though these residents are vocal, Trinity County has not experienced “significant confrontations from members of the public in Trinity County, everyone is simply passionate about their beliefs,” Cudiziol said.
Now, turning to Humboldt County, residents there are still under an indoor masking mandate but Public Health in the county has provided metrics that will inform when officials will consider rescinding the mandate.
The metrics that will be used to inform the rescinding of indoor masking include:
- Humboldt County must meet the Center for Disease Control’s “yellow/moderate” transmission level for 21 consecutive days.
- Local public health officials must determine that the impact of COVID-19 on area hospitals remains low.
- Vaccine rates in the county reach 80% or Public Health determines “sufficient evidence of community protection against COVID-19” based on vaccination rates or other protective factors.
Humboldt County’s Public Health Director Sofia Pereira told us these metrics were chosen to “reduce the likelihood of another surge in cases and deaths.” These metrics “come down to case rates, hospital capacity, and most importantly what our vaccination rate is,” Director Pereira explained.
She said that “science and the local conditions” inform Public Health’s determinations and “we have seen the positive impacts masking and vaccination have made so far, but we are not at a stage where lifting the entire masking order would be safe.”
Though Public Health officials do not consider Humboldt County ready for rescinding indoor masking, Director Pereira said “providing these metrics to the public will hopefully help our community understand conditions we need to strive for to ensure our community’s health.”
Now, to Mendocino County. Similar to Humboldt County, the indoor mask mandate is still in effect. Unlike Humboldt County, Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren stated at a COVID-19 press conference last Friday he will not set out metrics that will guide when the county can rescind indoor masking out of concern a surge could be in the future.
Dr. Coren said he had actually participated in multiple conversations with consortiums of California health officers and many of the counties that created their indoor masking exit strategies “were in better shape a few weeks ago.”
“I am not sure we are ready to exit wearing masks,” Dr. Coren said. He described being under an “awful lot of public pressure” but expressed concern that another surge could “threaten our local health care system considerably.”
Dr. Coren asserted that masks “continue to be the least expensive, most accessible, and the least problematic, and most helpful way to avoid the respiratory viral diseases.”
The only suggestion Dr. Coren made as to when he would consider establishing parameters or metrics similar to Humboldt County is “when we see some real progress.”
Finally, with vaccinations available to those five-year-old and up as well as advancements in therapeutics, the light at the end of COVID-19 tunnel seems nearer. But, as the indoor masking mandate demonstrates, the distance to the end of that tunnel could be determined by your local public health official.