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California will lift universal mask mandate Feb. 16

Andrew Nixon
A bicyclist at UC Davis wears a mask on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.

Updated at 5:52 p.m. to add additional COVID-19 restrictions the state will relax. Previously updated to add that Sacramento County is also planning to lift its mask mandate.

As the horrific winter omicron surge recedes, California announced Monday that it would not extend its universal mask requirement past Feb. 15, which required indoor face coverings for months in an attempt to stem a holiday-related rise of COVID-19 infections.

Masks will still be required indoors for unvaccinated people and for all people in higher risk areas like public transit or congregate living facilities.

The state is also immediately ending its stricter visitation requirements for long-term care facilities that took effect Jan. 7. The state is also increasing the threshold for indoors and outdoor “mega events” from 500 to 1,000 and 5,000 to 10,000, respectively. Those events are subject to additional testing and vaccination guidelines.

When the mandate was announced on Dec. 13, the state had seen 14 new cases per 100,000 residents, a 2.2% seven-day average test positivity rate, and hospitalizations were up 14% since Thanksgiving, according to the state department of public health.

But despite the mandates, COVID-19 cases spread.

During the peak of the omicron surge in January, California was averaging more than 110,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, around 270 per 100,000 people. That's dropped to around 45,000, and has fallen by half in just the past two weeks.

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Still, the surge has taxed hospitals through the region and the state. Sacramento County set new records for COVID-19 hospitalizations in January, and California has now recorded more than 80,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

While the statewide rules relax after Feb. 15, several counties still have their own indoor mask mandates.

Janna Haynes, spokesperson for Sacramento County, said the county “anticipates following the state's lead in lifting the mask mandate.”

Yolo County spokesperson John Fout said county health officials "continue to evaluate our local situation and plan to announce a decision before February 15."

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Dr. Aimee Sisson, public health officer for Yolo County, told CapRadio's Insight last week that while the hospitalizations in the county stayed below January 2021's peak, the large number of COVID-19 cases stretched the health care system.

"We're dealing with a situation of fewer hospital staff because many people have left the workforce," Sisson said. "Many people were out sick with COVID themselves, so it was a very challenging situation over the last couple of weeks for our hospitals."

With cases decreasing, she's hopeful that the current trends will continue to improve.

"While the case rates remain very high and we need to still be very careful in terms of our day to day behaviors, we're feeling much better about where we are [now] than we were, you know, in early January and throughout January, to be honest," she said.

Over the past few weeks, some counties have moved to reduce their own vaccination and mask requirements. San Francisco has allowed people to enter gyms, offices and other public spaces without masks if everyone present is vaccinated and boosted. Los Angeles County has not yet relaxed its mask rules but did announce criteria for eventually lifting the indoor mask mandate.

Chris Hagan is the Managing Editor, Digital Content for CapRadio.
Sacramento is home. It always has been, and it always will be. Having lived here most of my life, I recognize Sacramento is a place where people hold a variety of opinions, live amid a rich environmental landscape and are part of diverse communities.
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