By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, the statewide indoor mask mandate for vaccinated Californians expires.

As COVID-19 cases decline, public health officials say the state is easing restrictions in an effort to return the state to pre-pandemic normalcy.

“Omicron has loosened its hold on California, vaccines for children under 5 are around the corner, and access to COVID-19 treatments is improving,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, Director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). “With things moving in the right direction, we are making responsible modifications to COVID-19 prevention measures, while also continuing to develop a longer-term action plan for the state.”

According to the CDPH, COVID cases are down 65% after a sudden spike late last year due to the Omicron variant.

Vaccination rates are also increasing, both at the state and national levels. As of Feb. 11, 64.3% of the US population and 73.3% of California’s eligible population have been fully vaccinated, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and California state health officials.

“Unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks indoors,” tweeted Gov. Gavin Newsom last week.

However, not all California’s counties will be following Newsom’s lead.

During a press conference on Feb. 9, Santa Clara County Health Officer and Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody announced that the county will not be lifting mandates until officials there determine case

rates, vaccinations, and hospitalizations are low enough to reopen.

“Our case rates are 40% of what they were but we still have very high levels of community transmission, still higher than at any other point in the pandemic pre-omicron,” said Cody. “The risk of being exposed to someone with COVID in our community is still high.”

The other eight Bay Area counties have announced that they will follow the state’s lead.

Los Angeles County will keep mask mandates indoors for vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike but could raise some outdoor event mask mandates as early as Wednesday, as long as hospitalization rates stay at their current level.

Los Angeles County has the highest COVID case rate in the state, followed by San Diego and

Riverside counties, according to state health officials.

Both San Diego and Riverside counties plan on ending their indoor mask mandates along with the state on Tuesday.

Last week, Newsom’s administration implemented measures to make sure statewide COVID case rates continue to decline.

On Feb. 9, Newsom signed SB 113 and SB 114, extending paid COVID-19 sick leave until Sept. 30 of this year, and providing $6.1 billion in relief for California businesses, respectively.

“As California continues to lead the nation’s economic recovery, today’s action deepens our commitment to supporting the workers and businesses that have sustained us all during this unprecedented pandemic and are driving our economy,” said Newsom.

“We’re ensuring that workers have the time they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones, expanding our nation-leading small business relief grant program and supporting the businesses whose innovation and entrepreneurial spirit help make California the fifth largest economy in the world,” he continued.

Many private establishments across the state may continue mask requirements in their places of business but a majority of California’s counties have announced that they will be lifting mask mandates for vaccinated people, following the lead of the state.

On Feb. 10, Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 115, authorizing a $1.9 billion COVID-19 relief package to bolster the state’s ongoing emergency response.

“California has led the nation’s fight against COVID-19 with a comprehensive response that has saved countless lives. As we emerge from the

Omicron surge, we’re not letting our guard down,” said Newsom.

“The COVID Emergency Response Package will ensure the state has the resources to continue tackling this challenge head-on, with funding to enhance our testing and vaccination efforts, support frontline workers, strengthen our health care systems and battle dangerous misinformation. I thank our legislative leaders for their continued commitment to protecting the health of our families and communities as we navigate the evolving pandemic,” the governor continued.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.