Bay Area Businesses Await New Mask Guidelines as Some Counties Consider Lifting Mandate

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New mask guidelines are expected to be announced as soon as Thursday as some Bay Area counties consider lifting mandates on indoor businesses.

Local businesses are watching closely, waiting for new framework and restrictions so they can plan their next steps.

The owners of Halal International and Greek Market want customers to come in and enjoy shopping. But at the same time, signs are posted about current COVID-19 mask requirements in San Mateo County.

"We try to make everyone happy," said employee Abdo Shami. "I usually tell them the rules right now is you have to wear a mask. So I tell them, 'You want to come in, you definitely need to wear a mask.'"

Business owners are considering what it would be like when the COVID-19 rules are relaxed.

"If they come without masks and the regulations lift off, then I'm not going to force it," Shami said. "But as for my employees, they will still wear masks to just protect ourselves and everyone around us."

Most people agree -- wearing a mask is not fun. Many business owners say it actually hurts their sales. But we've been told masks help stop the spread of COVID-19. NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai spoke to Dr. Peter Chin-Hong of UCSF, for some insight.

Bay Area health officials from several counties that have an indoor mask order are discussing how and when to relax mask restrictions that were put back into place in early August as the COVID-19 delta variant spread rapidly.

Contra Costa County's health officer Ori Tzivieli spoke Tuesday night to other county supervisors and revealed what will be looked at before the mask mandate is removed.

"The criteria for easing restrictions will include a combination of the rates of the local community transmission, vaccination rates, rates of COVID in the community and the number of people in the hospital," Tzivieli said.

Most Bay Area counties are currently enforcing mask wearing, but that may change soon as authorities are considering possibly lifting the mask mandate. Christie Smith talks to business owners to learn how they feel about the upcoming changes.

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa said it's important to understand the data and be patient with the time frame.

"People shouldn't expect the masks to be removed tomorrow," he said. "I think there is going to be three weeks, but tomorrow will be an announcement on sort of what the data looks like to make a determination to create a framework for the removal of those masks."

There is even more to consider in communities with lower vaccination rates.

"In those communities, we will still recommend that people wear masks indoors as an additional measure of protection," he said. "They won't have to once we lift the order, but it's still a good idea."

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