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Health

Marin County, now with moderate transmission, might be able to lift mask mandate in three weeks – San Francisco Chronicle

Marin County is the only county in California that has a “moderate” level of coronavirus transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Wednesday, the county became the first in the Bay Area to advance into the category, depicted as yellow on the agency’s color-coded map, following the summer surge driven by the highly transmissible delta variant.

If Marin County remains in the “moderate” transmission category for more than three weeks, it will almost certainly meet the criteria set by Bay Area health officials last week to lift the indoor mask mandate in public settings for vaccinated people.

Seven of the nine other Bay Area counties remain in the “substantial” transmission category, labeled orange on the map. Napa County is the lone holdout in the region stuck in the worst “high” transmission category, which is red.

California as a whole is now in the “substantial” category, along with Alabama and Florida. The rest of the states are in the “high” category.

Marin is one of the only counties in the U.S. with moderate transmission that is part of a major metro area.

Marin County reported a seven-day average of 5.5 new cases per 100,000 residents per day on Wednesday, down from a peak of 22 per 100,000 in August. Hospitalizations have fallen in October.

“We’re seeing steady declines coming off that fourth wave that peaked in early August,” Dr. Matt Willis, the county’s health officer, told supervisors Tuesday.

In terms of potentially lifting the countywide indoor mask mandate, the guidance from Bay Area counties — including Marin — specifies that the mask rules can be pulled back once counties reach three benchmarks: showing that the virus is not widely circulating; that hospitals aren’t overfull with COVID patients; and that vaccination rates are high.

Only Marin County has hit a key 80% vaccination benchmark. Other Bay Area counties, where vaccination rates vary from about 66% to 75%, do not expect to hit that goal for several months.

On Friday, Oct. 15, Marin — like San Francisco — has said that people can remove their masks in gyms, offices, college classrooms and a few other settings where the same crowd of 100 people or fewer gather regularly, provided all attendees are fully vaccinated and no children under 12 are present. But many other settings — such as restaurants, bars and other public indoor places — must wait for the broader countywide rollback that hinges on low case rates and higher vaccination numbers.

“For those that are concerned that we may not be prepared yet to lift that additional local restriction, it’s important to recognize that Marin County, by virtue of having some of the highest vaccination rates, is a highly protected county. It also has some of the (lowest) case rates in the nation,” Willis said. “So if anyone can do it, we can.”

By contrast, Sonoma County officials said during a briefing Wednesday that the earliest the ban could be lifted there was early January.

Willis said health officials are urging older residents to get boosters because they are at higher risk for post-vaccination infection. The county has set a goal to increase booster uptake in this group to 50% by Nov. 12.

Currently, 77% of breakthrough hospitalizations in the county — 20 out of 26 people — are people over 65.

“This substantiates what we’ve seen nationally, that unique vulnerability based on age,” Willis said.

Chronicle staff writer Catherine Ho contributed to this report.

Aidin Vaziri is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected]

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