MONTEREY COUNTY — In alignment with the state of California, Monterey County and nearly a dozen other Bay Area jurisdictions have lifted universal mask requirements for most indoor public settings beginning Wednesday.
Last week Monterey County announced that it would join the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma as well as the City of Berkeley to align current masking orders with California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) face mask guidance.
The Feb. 16 change follows CDPH’s decision to let expire the statewide indoor mask requirement, which was instated on Dec. 15 during the latest Covid-19 surge.
“These actions do not alter local ordinances, individual business entity requirements or employer policies, which may all be more restrictive than CDPH guidance,” said Karen Smith, public information officer for the Monterey County Health Department.
“While Monterey County currently follows CDPH guidance on masking, the County of Monterey does require masks in all County government buildings, with a few exceptions,” Smith added.
Indoor masking is still required by the state for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in public transportation; healthcare settings; congregate settings, such as correctional facilities and homeless shelters; long-term care facilities; and in K-12 schools and childcare settings.
Unvaccinated individuals over age 2 will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings.
“Businesses, venue operators and hosts may determine their own paths forward to protect staff and patrons and may choose to require all patrons to wear masks,” according to a county news release Feb. 9.
Bay Area health officers still recommend masks be used as an effective tool to prevent the spread of the virus, especially when case rates are high or when additional personal protection is needed.
“Continuing to mask in indoor public settings, especially crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, remains the safest choice for an individual and protects those who are medically vulnerable or are not able to get vaccinated, like our youngest children,” the release continued. “As evidence continues to show, vaccinations and boosters remain the best defense against the virus.”
The highly contagious Omicron variant brought a high number of new infections, but significantly fewer cases of life-threatening illnesses, especially for those who were vaccinated and boosted.
After reaching a high of 980 new cases per day on Jan. 18, Monterey County’s case rates have rapidly declined to a seven-day average of 105 per 100,000 on Feb. 8 and continue to drop. Meanwhile, hospitalizations — a lagging indicator of disease — have begun to decrease and never exceeded the county’s capacity during the latest surge.
“Although Omicron was responsible for the highest estimated case rate to date, increasing vaccination coverage and use of face coverings allowed us to keep students in classrooms and to safeguard our health care system,” said Monterey County Health Officer Edward Moreno. “We do want people to continue to be cautious and layer their defenses through masking and other measures when the situation requires.”
Moreno added, “We are continuing to prioritize our county’s efforts to reduce the impacts of Covid-19 on vulnerable people and communities. Being vaccinated and boosted remains the best protection against future variants of the virus.”
Residents can sign up for vaccination appointments at mcvaccinate.com.