As the Bay Area prepares for yet another COVID-19 surge, some cities and agencies are reinstating indoor mask mandates as the region continues to debate the value of a patchwork of coronavirus-related health orders .
Since late March, California’s case rate has nearly tripled and the Bay Area – which has historically experienced lower case rates than the rest of the state – has emerged as a COVID hotspot.
Although cases still account for a tenth of January’s omicron surge, the region has three times as many positive cases compared to six weeks after the winter surge. The trend began in mid-March in San Francisco, followed by Santa Clara, San Mateo, and a little later in other counties.
Driven by the emergence of two omicron subvariants, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now account for the majority of cases nationally, has prompted some cities such as San Jose to revisit the mandates that have been lifted. Others continue to wait and see, reluctant to revamp the rules to a public fatigue of mixed messages.
San Jose reinstated an indoor mask mandate Friday for city employees.
City spokeswoman Demetria Machado said San Jose does not plan to implement other coronavirus measures at this time, but the employee mask mandate order could be extended until May 20 depending on case rates in Santa Clara County.
“San Jose’s employee mask mandate was carefully reinstated due to recent data from Santa Clara County showing an increase in positive COVID-19 cases,” Machado said in an emailed statement. “Our priority is the health and safety of our employees and keeping the community safe and ensuring that we can provide vital services to our residents.”
While the mandate only applies to city employees, Machado said masks are “strongly encouraged” for people visiting city facilities.
BART recently reinstated a mask mandate for its riders despite a Florida federal court ruling last month to revoke a federal mandate that airlines and transit agencies require employees and riders to wear masks. BART now requires riders to wear masks by mid-July.
The mandate will affect 50 stations in five counties and will be enforced by BART police. Riders who do not comply with the mandate may be removed from BART or fined up to $75.
But the spurt in cases in the Gulf region has not prompted new sweeping restrictions. Instead, many jurisdictions have continued to drop mandates or have opted not to reinstate them.
AC Transit, the Bay Area’s largest bus operator, decided not to renew its mask mandate following a court ruling, and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has indicated that masks are no longer required to proceed.
Most of the COVID health restrictions have been in place since March – around the same time that Santa Clara County dropped its mask mandate.
San Francisco, which was one of the first cities in the country to implement a “vaccine passport” for admission to restaurants, bars and gyms, lifted the requirement around the same time.
Other cities, such as Oakland, have followed suit, with the city council last week requiring proof of voting to prevent a negative test from requiring proof of voting or entering indoor public spaces such as restaurants, gyms and museums. Voted. However, proof of vaccination or a negative test is still required to enter assisted living and senior centers.
Despite giving up vaccine passports, Oakland has never dropped the mask mandate for its employees working indoors, according to its employee/HR page.
Dr Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, said she supported coronavirus restrictions in the early days of the pandemic, but she no longer considers them necessary given that there is some natural immunity to vaccines as well. The omicron boom because so many people have already caught the virus.
Gandhi said we are now at the point of the pandemic where “spatial management” is needed as COVID is not eradicable.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” she said of reinstating the mandate. “Otherwise we’re always going to hold back the mask mandate because we’re always going to have COVID.”
But Dr. George Rutherford, another infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco, believes wearing a mask is still the wisest approach.
“If I had to go to the movie theater, if I was going to the grocery store, I would wear a mask,” he told this news organization last week. “In most closed indoor settings, the better part of valor is wearing a mask, at least for a while here.”
While San Jose has no current plans to impose other restrictions, such as its booster mandate, for people attending events at city-owned facilities such as the SAP Center and Center for the Performing Arts, Mayor Sam Licardo said “all Depends on some tables what the data tells us.”
However, for now, he does not think the city should reinstate another mandate.
“I think the need for masks is justified given the increasing number of cases,” he said. “We must not jump ahead of ourselves, but continue to monitor vigilantly and respond appropriately.”