While the state plans to lift its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated residents effective Feb. 15, Yolo County’s health officer has not yet made a decision on whether to lift the county’s own mandate.
Under the local health order, everybody is required to wear a mask in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status. Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson issued the order in July and said she intended to lift the order when the daily COVID-19 case rate fell below two per 100,000 residents for seven consecutive days.
The county’s daily case rate has fallen by 60 percent since it reached an all-time high of 242 on Jan. 9, but it remains quite elevated — 89 per 100,000 residents as of Monday.
Whether Sisson will lift the order earlier than previously intended remains to be seen, but she did say Tuesday that the state’s decision to lift its mandate is grounded in science, specifically the reduced likelihood that someone who is fully vaccinated will be infected.
But “one of the steps that the state is taking is moving toward living with COVID, backing away from mandates and giving the public the information that they need to make informed decisions for themselves,” she said.
Some county supervisors voiced support for that approach.
“I want to applaud your phrase of ‘learning to live with COVID’ because I think that’s exactly where we are,” said Supervisor Gary Sandy of Woodland.
“And I know that’s a difficult aspect for a lot of people to accept, but… it’s a practical utterance that recognizes the realities of what we’re dealing with. And I think we’re going to move to a stage here, if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, where people are going to exercise greater self responsibility for their own health and those people who understand the risks of COVID… are going to undertake appropriate measures and safeguard their health wherever they are, regardless of what an individual store says, etc., because they recognize that things like masking, social distancing, do a great deal to prevent the transmission of the disease.
“There will always be measures that prudent people undertake to cope with those risks,” Sandy added, “but as the government, it becomes more and more difficult for us to oversee those efforts and perhaps more and more fruitless, which is what concerns me.”
He asked Sisson what she envisions in the months ahead.
Her reply: “I think we’re going to see a movement away from local health officer orders towards guidance and arming individuals with tools they need to protect themselves.
But other supervisors had concerns.
Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis questioned the state lifting the mask mandate for the vaccinated, noting that “people who are vaccinated still get the virus and at an increased rate under the Omicron variant and the new (BA.2 variant) perhaps at an even greater rate.
“(P)eople who are vaccinated, they’re not going to get as sick, but they can still spread it to others who will. We still can’t vaccinate children under five… and there’s people who have been vaccinated who can get very sick. We’re also at high transmission.”
He urged Sisson to “really give careful consideration as to whether or not we should continue a while longer” with the county’s universal indoor mask mandate.
As for the state’s universal mask mandate in K-12 schools, that will likely remain in effect longer.
“This is to ensure that school safety layers are removed one at a time and in light of the extended amount of time that students and staff spend indoors together,” said Sisson.
She noted that it was just a few weeks ago that the California Department of Public Health loosened contact tracing requirements in schools by introducing group-based contact tracing and allowing students to remain on campus and in extracurricular activities after close contact with a case at school.
“It is prudent to wait several weeks to see the impact of the contact tracing and quarantine change before changing school masking requirements,” Sisson said.
And as for concerns about the new Omicron sub variant, BA.2, the county is watching closely, Sisson said.
“Compared to the original Omicron, BA.2 appears to be up to 50 percent more infectious and has caused large numbers of cases in Europe, including Denmark,” Sisson said.
“Fortunately, BA.2 also appears to be neutralized by existing vaccines,” she added.
However, Sisson said, “We don’t know yet if people who were infected with the original Omicron will be protected against re-infection with BA.2.