To lift the mandate, Cody said the county needs to meet three metrics the county established in fall 2021: a vaccination rate of the county's entire population of 80%; a low, stable hospitalization rate; and a 7-day rolling average of 550 new daily cases or fewer, sustained for seven consecutive days.
The county has reached the first two metrics and is on the cusp of meeting the third. Nearly 85% of all residents have completed their single- or two-shot vaccine series. The number of residents who have also received booster shots is on the rise, currently at 68%, she said.
The county has also kept the number of hospitalizations low and stable. The number of newly hospitalized patients with COVID-19 on Feb. 21 was 21, mirroring the rate prior to the omicron variant surge.
The county changed how it measures the hospitalization rate since the emergence of omicron. Now, data shows that a greater proportion of patients are found to have COVID-19 when they are hospitalized for other reasons and aren't being hospitalized due to the virus, Cody said.
Once the third metric is met, the mask mandate could be lifted. Cody said the trends are "very promising."
"Today, we had (a seven-day rolling average of) 555 cases. I anticipate we will be meeting the metric tomorrow," Cody said, noting that the numbers of cases have continued to decline steadily.
But "we still live with a lot of unknowns. I'm encouraged that we are coming out of the surge," she said.
Once the mandate is lifted, Cody said the county will make a recommendation that people still wear masks, but they won't be required. Unmasking won't be universal. Residents must still be masked indoors at schools, hospitals and medical clinics, on public transportation and in certain crowded settings under a state order, she said.
COVID-19 variants also continue to be the wild cards. So far, the county is currently experiencing the original omicron variant, BA.1, which spreads more rapidly but has been milder. Cases of the omicron subvariant BA.2 are present in Santa Clara County, which researchers say is 30% more contagious and might be resistant to therapeutic antibody treatment. So far it hasn't been surging, Cody said. She remained cautiously optimistic.
According to a World Health Organization weekly epidemiological update through Feb. 15, some countries have seen an increase in BA.2 cases in a short period of time. In South Africa, the prevalence rose from 27% on Feb. 4 to 86% by Feb. 11. In the United Kingdom, the prevalence of BA.2 increased six-fold from 2.2% to 12%, and in Denmark, it rose ??from 20% in the last week of December to become the dominant variant — 66% of sequenced samples — by the third week of 2022. Research hasn't yet determined whether BA.2 causes greater illness.
County leaders are still trying to determine how to stand down on their response to the pandemic while preserving an infrastructure of vaccination and testing programs in the event that BA.2 or another variant comes roaring back.
Even after the masking mandate subsides, it will be largely up to residents to continue proactive safety measures to help prevent another surge and to stay well, officials have said. It remains to be seen whether the precautionary measures county leaders have reiterated continuously during the past two years have any lasting influence.
There are some signs that many residents aren't suddenly discarding their masks. While San Mateo County lifted the mandate on Feb. 16, a clerk at the Menlo Park Safeway reported this week that few customers were coming in unmasked.
During the county's home rapid-antigen-test giveaways on Feb. 9 and 10, the county ran out at the Los Altos Library location in 35 minutes. The event was supposed to last four hours. Staff doubled the number of kits at the next giveaway event in Cupertino, but they were all snapped up within 90 minutes, Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith told the Health and Hospital Committee.
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