Sonoma County, Bay Area health officials recommend masking indoors in public
Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase has joined other Bay Area health officials in supporting a forthcoming regional recommendation for people to wear masks in indoor public settings.
The recommendation due out from the Association of Bay Area Health Officials this week comes as the region’s nine counties face increased flu and COVID-19 case rates — a trend playing out across the country.
“We just need to recognize there’s very high levels of different respiratory viruses this season,” said Mase, who is a member of the association.
The recommendation applies to restaurants, stores, gyms, schools, workplaces and other indoor public settings, but it is not a mandate.
Sonoma County lifted its indoor mask requirement in February and in its place introduced a recommendation to wear masks when in indoor public settings. The association’s guidance serves as a reminder of the long-standing recommendation to mask indoors, said Matt Brown, a Sonoma County spokesperson.
The confluence of influenza and COVID-19 has pushed more than half of the region’s nine counties out of the bottom tier designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have the lowest level community spread.
Santa Clara County is in the high tier, where the CDC recommends people wear masks in public.
Napa, Solano, Contra Costa and Alameda counties have all moved to the medium tier, where universal masking is required in high-risk settings, including jails and homeless shelters, under state rules.
Solano County has not imposed any changes to its mask-related policies, according to Jayleen Richards, public health administrator. The county has refrained from mandating or even recommending citizens mask up.
Instead, county officials “support” the right for people to do so “wherever they feel comfortable,” Richards told North Bay Business Journal.
Napa County will continue to follow state guidance on masking, said Holly Dawson, deputy county CEO of communications.
“The Association of Bay Area Health Officials will be sharing preventive messages for keeping healthy for the holidays from respiratory viruses, but is not making a specific recommendation to the region’s nine counties related to masking,” Dawson told the Journal.
Marin County spokesperson Laine Hendricks told the Journal that county health officials are sticking with their recommendations from last week for ways to protect against winter viruses such as COVID-19: stay current on shots, get treated, wear a mask, wash hands, and cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing.
Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit officials also “support” the use of masks by passengers and staff, but it’s not a mandate.
“We’re paying attention (to virus conditions), and we will adapt,” spokesman Matt Stevens told the Journal.
SMART lifted its mandate for face coverings last April.
Sonoma County and Marin County are in the low tier, but that could shift if the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and the number of patients with the virus in intensive care units rise, said Mase.
As of Tuesday, 0.22% of Sonoma County’s population had active COVID-19 cases and 16.7% of ICU patients were COVID-19 positive, according to county data.
The region has also been battling respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, but Mase noted those numbers may have peaked.
“We’re still seeing a lot of influenza and COVID-19,” said Mase.
The CDC updates its data and tier designations every Thursday.
To stay healthy this holiday season, Mase said the coalition of Bay Area health officers is recommending people get vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 if eligible, get tested for COVID-19 before going to any large gatherings, wear masks when traveling, avoid large gatherings if vulnerable or living with someone who is vulnerable and to stay home if sick.
“Everybody stay safe, we’re not out of the woods with COVID,” said Mase. “Even if you don’t get really sick with (the viruses), if you’re ill then you’re going to miss work, you’re going to miss the fun of the holidays.”
Mase said she expects the indoor masking recommendation will be in place into 2023, noting that the respiratory virus season usually extends into March and sometimes April.
You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.
North Bay Business Journal contributed to this report.