Sonoma County rescinds face mask exemption for fully vaccinated groups
SANTA ROSA, CA – Sonoma County today joined four other Bay Area counties in rescinding exemptions to local public health orders that allowed stable groups of fully vaccinated people to remove their masks indoors in some workplaces, gyms, churches and other public settings.
Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask in all indoor public settings.
The exemption to Sonoma County’s masking order will be eliminated at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. Four other Bay Area counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Francisco — and the city of Berkeley also removed similar exemptions to their local mask mandates in a coordinated effort to blunt a regional surge in COVID-19 cases.
The action fully aligns Sonoma County with the statewide mask mandate issued Dec. 15 by the California Department of Public Health. The statewide indoor mask order will last a month, expiring on Jan. 15. CDPH had allowed counties with existing mask orders, like Sonoma, to retain their local exemptions. Sonoma County decided to eliminate its exemption and require masks in all indoor public settings following a sharp increase in local COVID-19 cases, said county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase.
“Increasingly, we are seeing the virus that causes COVID-19 spread among people who are fully vaccinated,” Dr. Mase said. “The vaccine works. It greatly reduces the chances you will become severely ill or die if you contract the virus, but it won’t stop you from infecting others. If they are immunocompromised or unvaccinated, they could require hospitalization and even die. Wearing a well-fitted mask indoors in public settings will help keep you and those around you safe by slowing the transmission of COVID-19.”
Sonoma County has required facial coverings in most indoor public settings under an August 2021 health order. It amended the health order in October, granting an exemption to some workplaces, gyms, churches and other organizations that verified the vaccination status of employees and members
and qualified under other terms of the amendment. Today’s action rescinds the October amendment.
“As the pandemic evolves, our response to it will also evolve,” Dr. Mase said.
The first case of the omicron variant, a highly contagious mutation of the virus that now comprises the majority of new cases in the United States, was detected in Sonoma County on Dec. 16. Since then, the rate of new daily COVID cases has increased 15 percent in Sonoma County.
Nearly 80 cases a day are being detected in Sonoma County among people who are fully vaccinated, an all-time high. Sonoma County health officials are aware of at least two COVID outbreaks following holiday parties where stable cohorts of fully vaccinated people gathered indoors without wearing masks, resulting in nearly 40 known positive cases to date.
While breakthrough cases in vaccinated people are rising, unvaccinated people are exposed to the greatest risks. The number of COVID-19 cases detected daily in unvaccinated people in Sonoma County has more than tripled since Thanksgiving, from 16.9 per 100,000 residents to 51.9 per 100,000 residents, the highest since late August. New daily cases detected among vaccinated residents increased from 6.9 per 100,000 residents to 7.9 per 100,000 residents during the same period.
Masks are one tool to reduce transmission of the COVID virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends snug-fitting masks that contain two or more layers and completely cover your nose and mouth, along with a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top of the
mask. While cloth masks can stop large droplets exhaled by an infected person, a surgical mask or other FDA-approved mask are the best options because they also filter smaller aerosols and particles that transmit the COVID-19 virus, Dr. Mase said.
“Given how contagious the omicron variant is proving to be, cloth masks are just not as effective in stopping the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Mase. “We recommend that everyone upgrade to a surgical mask or something equivalent.”
Vaccination remains the best tool to slow the spread of the virus and protect yourself from severe illness. Earlier this week, Sonoma County Public Health issued new guidelines for local employers, strongly urging employers to require all workers to get a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, if eligible for one. Workers who decline to get a booster should be tested at least twice weekly for COVID.
Last week, Dr. Mase issued two health orders requiring booster shots or twice-weekly testing for local school employees and for personnel working in fire, law enforcement, emergency medical services, pharmacies, dental offices and temporary disaster shelters in Sonoma County. The mandatory orders take effect Feb. 1, although Public Health highly recommends that employers covered by the orders immediately begin testing unvaccinated and unboosted employees at least twice weekly.
The county mandate expanded a California Department of Public Health order requiring health care workers, adult care facilities and direct care workers, and correctional facility and detention center health care staff to get a booster shot by Feb. 1 and be tested at least twice weekly until they receive the booster shot.
Visit www.SoCoEmergency.org for Health Order information as well as vaccination and testing locations.