Health Officers Set Benchmarks for Lifting Mask Mandates


Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman. - SCREENSHOT
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  • Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman.
Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman and his Del Norte counterpart announced today the beginning of a loosening of COVID-19 masking requirements, with the outdoor masking mandated slated to be lifted Nov. 8, while the health officials outlined the benchmarks needed for the full lifting of the local masking order.

The move comes with the county “seeing really good signs of progress in the pandemic,” Hoffman said during  a COIVD-19  news conference today. “The numbers are narrowly headed in the right direction.”

But, Hoffman cautioned, the region still has “a little ways to go.”

Humboldt County — in collaboration with other health officials in the region, and specifically in Del Norte County's — has set three main measures for lifting restrictions and then monitoring the overall COVID situation once that occurs, Hoffman said.

Those are: being in the Centers for Disease Control’s yellow or “moderate” transmission tier on its COVID-19 tracker for three consecutive weeks, reaching an 80 percent vaccination rate in Humboldt County and seeing a stabilization in hospitalization numbers.

“The idea here is we want to clearly communicate to our community what we are watching,” Hoffman said.

With Humboldt County sitting firmly in the CDC’s red or “high” transmission tier for months now, that means, at minimum, any consideration of lifting the indoor mask requirements would be at least 21 days out and dependent on a steep decrease in case and test-positivity rates.

Meanwhile, full vaccination rates currently sit just below 60 percent of the population and hospitalizations were still hovering at about 10 this week. And while the latter is well below the Delta surge peak of more than 40, hospitals are still feeling the reverberations.

But Hoffman says he believes the benchmarks are “achievable and attainable goals." And, while done in consultation with other counties, not all of the standards will be the same.

When the county hits the 70-percent full vaccination mark, Hoffman said it will allow for large, fully vaccinated groups to gather without masks. The county is currently nearing a full vaccination rate of  about 60 percent, with another roughly 6 percent of residents are partially vaccinated, while residents age 5 to 11 are newly eligible to receive their shots.

“Eighty percent is also achievable for the community. … I think it’s a realistic goal and a protective goal,” Hoffman said, noting the numbers will be reevaluated in January if the standard is not met by then.

On the hospital side, the evaluation will be a bit more complex, Hoffman said, without specific numbers attached, noting “there’s a lot going into it.”

“It’s really working closely with our partners in health care,  in the county and across the state and the places we transfer to, to make sure, if there’s a surge in cases after lifting the mask mandate, we could handle it,” Hoffman said.

If the county’s mandate is lifted, Humboldt will still fall under the state’s health guidance, including “that people who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 must continue to wear masks in businesses and indoor public spaces,” according to a news release.

Read the joint release from Humboldt and Del Norte counties below:

As decisions to vaccinate and wear face coverings in public indoor and outdoor crowded settings drive down COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations, health officers for two rural Northern California counties that require face coverings in public spaces today reached consensus on criteria to lift those health orders.

All the health officers across the rural Northern California counties continue to work together to protect public health with a consistent regional approach, and to plan for the next phase of response and recovery to COVID-19 as this current wave of the pandemic ebbs.

On Monday, Nov. 8, Del Norte and Humboldt counties will lift the outdoor masking requirements. Additionally, the two counties will lift the indoor masking requirement in public spaces not subject to state or federal masking rules when all the following occur:

  • Consistently low and stable COVID-19 cases by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data tracker
  • Consistently low and stable hospital impact of respiratory viruses including COVID-19
  • Improved community protection with vaccination.

Both health departments issued the masking requirements for their respective jurisdictions in August following a summer surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths that were the worst yet for the rural Northern California region.

But now with regional data showing the surge is receding, and with vaccination rates increasing across the region, health officials in these counties are offering guidelines to inform the public when they can expect local masking orders to be removed.

Masks and vaccination continue to be the best protections against COVID-19, and these principles support the evidence and science used to make important public health policy decisions.

Del Norte County’s health officer Dr. Aaron Stutz said, “It is no accident that transmission has slowed in the rural north of our state. Public health interventions, including masking, are working. Our health orders, COVID-19 vaccination, as well as outreach and education are all added layers of protection and have resulted in saved lives. Our communities all worked together to lessen the impact of this deadly Delta surge and will continue to work together as we enter recovery.”

Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman agreed, “Vaccination is the best way to protect our communities,” he said. “We will continually evaluate our progress on vaccination as those numbers help us decide when it will be safe to lift the masking orders.”

California’s health guidance for the use of face coverings will remain in effect after local masking requirements are lifted, meaning that people who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 must continue to wear masks in businesses and indoor public spaces.

Read the Order of the Humboldt County Health Officer for the Wearing of Face Coverings in Workplaces and Indoor Public Settings.

The state also requires face coverings for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in health care facilities, on public transit and in adult and senior care facilities. California’s masking guidelines in K-12 schools would also not be affected by changes to local health orders.

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