Yolo County lifting universal mask order

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Yolo County’s universal mask requirement will be lifted along with the state’s on Feb. 15, the county announced last Wednesday.

The local health order requiring everyone to wear face coverings in indoor public settings and workplaces, regardless of vaccination status, has been in place since July 30. Going forward, only unvaccinated individuals will be required to wear face coverings, though the county continues to recommend that everyone wear face masks indoors.

The guidance requires all persons, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask indoors in the following settings: public transit, K-12 schools, childcare, healthcare, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities.

In addressing the change, Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson said, “I still strongly recommend that everybody continue to wear a mask indoors.

“The real difference here is that it is being recommended but not required, and part of that is a transition into a new phase of COVID in which we are learning to live with the virus and we will be shifting our government response away from mandates and more toward the traditional public health role of making recommendations.”

Masking in indoor public spaces like grocery stores is still required for unvaccinated individuals. And as they did back in June when the county lifted its mask mandate prior to the Delta surge, businesses will have three options for enforcing the requirement: continuing to require face coverings of all patrons; checking vaccination cards at the door; or simply allowing individuals to self-attest to being vaccinated (in other words, the honor system).

In a press release issued, the county said, “at the start of the pandemic, we had few options to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

Sisson said Wednesday the county is lifting its mask order “because the COVID-19 situation has changed thanks to effective vaccines, effective treatments, and a variant that causes less severe disease.

“The Omicron wave is receding, but COVID-19 will continue to be with us,” she said. “We must learn to live with COVID-19. Moving away from requiring everybody to wear masks indoors is a first step toward living with COVID-19. I still recommend that everybody wears a mask indoors in Yolo County, but it will no longer be required in most settings for fully vaccinated persons starting Feb. 16.”

Universal masking will still be required in specific settings, including public transit, K-12 schools, childcare, healthcare, correctional, shelter, and long-term care settings.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a challenge for everyone over the last two years, and Yolo County residents have demonstrated their willingness to follow public health requirements,” said Yolo County Supervisor Angel Barajas, who chairs the Board of Supervisors. “We will continue to support ways for residents to protect themselves and others from the disease.”

Barajas’ colleagues on the Board of Supervisors were divided last Tuesday about whether the local mask mandate should remain in place longer.

Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis, in particular, urged Sisson to “really give careful consideration as to whether or not we should continue a while longer.”

Provenza noted that vaccinated individuals can still become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and pass it on to others, transmission that becomes less likely if everyone is masked.

“People who are vaccinated, they’re not going to get as sick,” he said, “but they can still spread it to others who will.”

Should the COVID-19 situation in Yolo County worsen in the future — possibly due to a new variant that causes severe disease or evades immunity from vaccines and prior infection — universal masking could be reinstated, Sisson said.

However, she noted, “the Omicron variant causes on average less severe disease than previous variants.

“While Yolo County case rates during the Omicron surge reached unprecedented levels, fewer individuals required hospitalization than during previous surges.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, aggressive actions, including stay-at-home orders, were taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve in order to avoid a situation in which more people would require hospitalization for COVID-19 than the healthcare system could support,” Sisson said.

“Thanks to public cooperation with these orders, Yolo County successfully flattened the curve.”

Students masking outdoors
Sisson is no longer recommending that K-12 students wear masks outdoors at school, provided a majority of the student population is vaccinated.

Previously, Sisson had recommended everyone wear masks outdoors on school campuses. While Winters Joint Unified School District Trustees voted to not require masks to be worn outdoors, other Yolo County school districts — including the Davis and Woodland — made outdoor masking mandatory.

Sisson said the change is that students who are ages five through 11 are now eligible to be vaccinated.

“When this school year began, children five to 11 were not eligible for vaccination and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has recommended that unvaccinated persons wear a mask outdoors when they are not able to maintain six feet of distance from others.

“So that was the basis for my recommendation for outdoor masking in students in Yolo County.”

However, the requirement for masking indoors will not change for K-12 schools.

“The state continues to require all students and staff on K-12 campuses to wear masks indoors and the state has indicated that will not change before Feb. 15.”

Students have been removing their masks outdoors during lunch, of course, and Sisson said Thursday that there hasn’t been much in the way of virus transmission during those periods.

“I think there have been close contacts and a lot of students who have been sent home to quarantine because of exposures outdoors at lunchtime, but we’re aware of very few students who have actually converted to positive as a result of those outdoor exposures,” Sisson said.

According to data from the California Department of Public Health, just 35 percent of children ages five to 11 in Yolo County are fully vaccinated and 55 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17.

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