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San Francisco to ease indoor masking rules starting Oct. 15

San Francisco plans to partially lift its indoor masking mandate starting next week, and will fully revoke indoor masking requirements once the city hits certain health milestones. 

Along with seven Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley, San Francisco said on Thursday that it will remove indoor mask mandates when case rates fall into a “moderate” range as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More immediately, San Francisco will lift masking rules in certain, more controlled indoor settings starting Oct. 15. 

The Department of Public Health said that as long as case rates remain stable, it will lift mandates in settings where “stable groups of fully vaccinated people gather” next week. Those settings include offices, gyms, employee commuter vehicles, religious services, and college classes not exceeding 100 people. If the employer or host can verify full vaccination of participants, masks are not required. The city plans to release full details of the new health order in the coming days.

San Francisco currently requires proof of vaccination to enter many indoor venues, including bars, restaurants and fitness centers. Numerous office-based employers in the city, large and small, have also mandated vaccines for their workers. Masking will still be required for bar and restaurant patrons, except while actively eating or drinking, and in other settings “accessed by the wider public.” 

Bay Area jurisdictions also set terms for a full revocation of mask mandates, which use the CDC’s transmission tiers as a basis for risk. 

The CDC defines “moderate” transmission as between 15 and 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over the course of a week, and a positivity rate of 5% to 8%. San Francisco’s current positivity rate sits at less than 2%, with an average weekly case rate of about 77 per 100,000 people. That puts San Francisco in the CDC’s “substantial” transmission category, though health officials expect cases to wane in the coming weeks.

The counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma and the city of Berkeley plan to lift masking requirements in public indoor settings when the jurisdiction reaches the CDC’s “moderate” risk tier and remains in that tier for at least three weeks. COVID hospitalizations must also be “low and stable,” at the discretion of the county’s public health officer. Thirdly, at least 80% of the jurisdiction’s total population must be vaccinated, or eight weeks must have passed since FDA approval of a vaccine for children over the age of 5. Currently, 75% of all San Franciscans are fully vaccinated, and 80% have received at least one dose. 

San Francisco residents who are unvaccinated must continue masking indoors, according to the health order. Masking rules will also remain in effect in public settings governed by state or federal rules, such as public transportation, hospitals, jails and schools. Masks are still recommended in crowded outdoor settings regardless of vaccination status. 

“We recognize that now is the time to begin taking steps toward easing some of the masking requirements in safer settings and planning for when we can safely lift them more broadly,” said San Francisco’s Health Officer, Dr. Susan Philip, in a statement.