Masks still strongly recommended; vaccines and boosters urged to further strengthen defenses
As cases and hospitalizations throughout the region continue to decline, anyone in Berkeley is now able to choose whether to wear masks in those indoor settings where merchants or organizations have not set stricter rules.
The strongly recommended, safest choice is to continue to mask indoors - especially in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces. Masking also protects the medically vulnerable or those unable to get vaccinated, like our youngest children.
The decision to give organizations and vaccinated individuals more choices on masking starting Feb. 16 reflects a shared view by twelve of the Bay Area's Health Officers about the nature of this surge: declining cases of a hyper-infectious variant and, amidst greater vaccinations and boosters, much fewer cases of hospitalizations and severe illness.
Starting March 1, the state of California gave most businesses and other organizations the choice to also allow unvaccinated people to unmask indoors.
"Our pandemic tools not only guide us through surges, but they also lay a foundation for safety once we are through the worst of a surge," said Dr. Lisa B. Hernandez, the City of Berkeley Health Officer. "If you haven't already, get vaccinated and boosted. Use masks to lower your risk, which includes your family's medical vulnerability or in the places you are in."
Masking still required in certain environments, other jurisdictions
The statewide mask order dictates what is required in Berkeley..
The state will continue to require that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people mask in public transportation; health care settings; congregate settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters; and long term care facilities; and, until March 12, in K-12 schools and childcare settings.
Some jurisdictions will have stricter rules, based on the conditions there. Wherever you travel to, use local orders to guide the minimum precautions you should take.
Vaccination, boosters drive down severe illness
This surge had a rapid increase due to the hyper-infectiousness of Omicron. The decline has also been rapid.
The city is averaging 98 cases per day, based on an average of daily rates for the week ending Feb. 8. That represents a decline from the peak - 438 cases per day for the week ending January 14 - and cases continue to decrease.
Hospitalizations usually follow the rise in cases after a couple weeks. However, this most recent surge came in the context of very high vaccination and booster rates, which have consistently proven to be powerful in warding off severe illness, hospitalization and death.
Berkeley has a 92 percent vaccination rate with at least 56 percent of those fully vaccinated also getting boosters, helping keep hospitalization rates consistently low through this Omicron surge.
Use all tools to keep you, your loved ones safe
Use pandemic tools to lower your risk. When it comes to masking, vaccinated people will soon have more places to adjust to their comfort level.
Use boosters to stay up to date with vaccination. When you wear your mask, do so with a well-fitted cloth mask on top of a surgical one. Even better, use an N95 or KN95. You can also lower risk by meeting outdoors with others and keeping indoor spaces well ventilated.
Use testing to confirm illness. Isolate or quarantine to break cycles of spread.
Those who effectively use proven public health tools will continue to best navigate the pandemic.
Updates to message originally published on February 9: Updated March 2 to reflect state changes that allow unvaccinated people to be unmasked indoors in environments where merchants or other organizations have not set stricter rules. Updated March 3 to provide link and detail on the expiration date for school masking requirements.