San Francisco, California – Indoor mask mandates are being reconsidered by Bay Area health officials. Mayor London Breed said the change is long overdue on Tuesday. However, there is still a lot of doubt among Bay Area people, including epidemiologists.
Throughout the pandemic, mask mandates have been a moving target. When California reopened in mid-June, the state’s indoor mask requirements were removed. In early August, seven Bay Area counties re-issued indoor masking mandates when Delta caused a new surge. Now, health officials in the Bay Area are debating whether or not to remove the face masks once more.
“The mask just feels like a safety blanket,” said San Francisco resident, Danielle Coller.
Despite declining COVID cases and some of the highest vaccine rates in the country, Coller says she’s just not ready to drop her mask. “It just feels too soon! Too many different variants. I’m fully vaccinated, but I still feel nervous.”
“We’re past the metrics defined by the CDC for lifting indoor mask mandates,” said UCSF infectious disease specialist, Dr. Monica Gandhi.
Dr. Gandhi says right now, it makes sense to drop the mandate. “It becomes a personal choice as opposed to a mandate and when you put in mandates in the setting of the concept of public health, you have to be in a public health emergency and we have low transmission now, with have high vaccination, and that loses it’s definition of mandate versus recommendation.”
But Dr. Gandhi’s UCSF colleague, Dr. George Rutherford, says he won’t be dropping his mask anytime soon.
Kate Larsen: “Do you think it’s safe?”
Dr. George Rutherford: “I can think of safer things to do.”
“I’m older. I need to be careful. I don’t want to get COVID, I don’t want to be at risk for long-term COVID,” explained Dr. Rutherford.
If the mandate is dropped, Dr. Rutherford says people need to manage their own risk. “If you’re going to walk into an indoor place, especially one that’s crowded where you’re going to mix vaccinated and unvaccinated people, just be careful.”
Personal perspective is also a factor. Joe Correa and Joe Murray both live in San Francisco, but Correa has a child too young to be vaccinated…
“I’m always interested in his safety and keeping the mask mandate indoors goes to that.”
Whereas Murray, who is 24, is already dropping his mask inside restaurants and clubs. “We’re pretty comfortable being out in public and going out without the mask.”
SFDPH says they’re “considering where there may be some flexibility in lowering mask requirements, beginning with settings where there is lower risk, low contact rates, and where people are fully vaccinated.”