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Editorial: Bay Area mask mandate is welcome news

by BAR Editorial Board

Health workers offered COVID-19 testing and vaccines at the recent Folsom Street Market outdoor event. Photo: Gooch
Health workers offered COVID-19 testing and vaccines at the recent Folsom Street Market outdoor event. Photo: Gooch  

It was only last summer when we began making and stocking up on face coverings, and yet we couldn't let them go even after getting vaccinated. When California reopened and loosened most restrictions in mid-June, many were hesitant to discard their masks in many indoor spaces. Lots of people kept masked up outside, too. It turns out that that wariness was warranted. On August 2 San Francisco joined seven other jurisdictions — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma counties and the city of Berkeley — in mandating that nearly everyone wear a face covering when indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. A day later, Marin County announced a mask mandate of its own. Only Napa and Solano counties are following the less restrictive recommendation to mask up indoors. The sudden spike in infection rates of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus mostly among the unvaccinated and some breakthrough cases among those vaccinated necessitated the return of the mandates in much of the Bay Area, as well as Los Angeles and Sacramento.

It is important that everyone wear a face covering indoors. San Francisco health officials stated that the aim is to reduce community transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health. Health officials are very concerned by the substantial levels of community transmission now found across the Bay Area, especially among unvaccinated people. "In part, this is due to the widespread COVID-19 Delta variant, which is substantially more transmissible than previous forms of the virus. Recent information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also indicates that even fully vaccinated individuals can in some cases spread the Delta variant to others, and so indoor use of face coverings provides an important added layer of protection," a news release from San Francisco officials stated.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told us that the new order "is the right thing to do."

"I'm hoping moving from a recommendation to a requirement will be helpful to businesses trying to keep their employees and patrons safe," he wrote in a text message, referring to San Francisco's previous position of strongly urging people to mask up indoors. And Mandelman is one of those people who has continued to wear a face covering almost all the time, especially indoors. His point about businesses trying to keep their workers safe is important too. If a customer refuses to wear a mask, employees are put at risk as well as other customers.

Masks and vaccines have been purposefully politicized. And the parts of the country with the lowest vaccination rates, i.e., mostly red states in the South, are now seeing COVID surges. But so are we, in a blue state with a relatively high percentage of residents vaccinated. The Bay Area has achieved very high vaccination rates, yet the case numbers are soaring, but especially among those who are unvaccinated. The difference now is the Delta variant's highly contagious nature.

The good news is that the vaccines are working as they are supposed to. "COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in protecting people against severe illness and hospitalizations, and the vaccine continues to be our best way to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities," stated Dr. Naveena Bobba, San Francisco's acting health officer. "Indoor masking is a temporary measure that will help us deal with the Delta variant, which is causing a sharp increase in cases, and we know increases in hospitalizations and deaths will follow. When we all wear face coverings indoors, we are protecting our fellow residents and helping our health care workers." While the vaccines are effective, the problem is that even a fully vaccinated person can become infected, have no symptoms, and potentially infect others. That's what happened in Provincetown, Massachusetts over the July 4 holiday — many fully vaccinated gay men and others got COVID, as the Washington Blade and other outlets have reported. Thankfully, there weren't many severe cases, but some people posting on Facebook did note they felt like crap and it was not like a regular cold. This virus is dangerous and lurking all the time. Just when health experts think we've turned a corner, another variant pops up. Many companies are reacting with renewed caution and requiring their employees to get vaccinated before returning to the office, or they are delaying office reopenings. This makes sense until infection rates subside and remain low after a period.

People should adhere to the new mask mandate for their own protection and for the greater good of society. We all want this pandemic to end. We all want a return to the Before Times. But frankly, we don't know when that's possible. COVID is an efficient virus, and it has shown its ability to adapt into variants that are more severe and spread even quicker.

There are two things people can and should do: wear a mask and get vaccinated. It's that simple, doesn't cost much money — the vaccines are free and masks are inexpensive — and could save your own life or that of someone you care about.

Wear a mask indoors.

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