San Mateo County, along with most other Bay Area counties, lifted its indoor mask mandate starting Feb. 16, following state recommendations.
Under the new requirements, vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks in most indoor public places. Face coverings are still required on public transportation, hospitals, nursing homes, K-12 schools, and daycare facilities. Additionally, unvaccinated individuals must wear masks in all indoor public spaces.
According to Preston Merchant, the Communications Officer for San Mateo County Health, businesses can still require their customers to wear masks.
“Businesses, events, and other groups may choose to set their own policies, like requiring masks or checking vaccination status, but there is no general requirement for stores to check patrons’ vaccination status if they are not wearing a mask,” Merchant said.
Lifting the mask mandate is a bit concerning for some, especially as masks have been integrated into daily life. Elysia Jin, a freshman, voiced her opinions on the subject.
“I think having an indoor mask mandate is a good idea and still necessary at the moment, for everyone, but especially for those who haven’t gotten the vaccine,” Jin said. “When the mask mandate is lifted, I would still probably wear one if COVID-19 is still going around, even though I’m vaccinated, just to be safe.”
Others feel some security knowing that the requirements can be changed, especially after the surge of cases due to the Omicron variant in January and the vaccination efforts by the county, particularly those for younger children.
“It is comforting to know that the spike from January has settled down and has allowed for some mandates to relax. I’m glad more and more people are getting vaccinated and boostered, including little kids, which makes everyone a lot safer,” said Marguerite Fields, a senior.
The high vaccination rate in San Mateo County and the fact that the Bay Area notoriously has had a health-conscious response to the COVID-19 pandemic makes some feel more than ready to loosen restrictions.
“I feel comfortable with the mask mandate being lifted as a high population of our county is vaccinated,” said Sam Stabinsky, a junior. “We’ve made a lot of scientific advancements regarding COVID-19, and those advancements increase my confidence level in the way we will handle reopening the community.”
After lifting the mask mandate for most public indoor areas, the next area of focus for the state is looking at the mandate for schools, but there will be no changes to their masking requirements for now.
However, in a press conference led by Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California health and human services agency secretary, California will reassess the mask mandate in schools on Feb. 28. They will then review where masking requirements should go after looking at the data from the loosening mandates.
At this point, many students would not be ready to take off their masks at school yet. Jin noted that she would wait for COVID-19 levels to go down even further before considering not wearing a mask at school.
“I think I would feel comfortable not wearing a mask inside once COVID-19 is mostly gone, and there’s not a lot of new cases in our area,” Jin said.
While the mandate has been lifted, San Mateo County still strongly recommends mask-wearing, especially in high-risk areas.
“I would still consider wearing masks in situations where I feel like the risk of spreading COVID-19 is higher. Big crowded functions, public transportation, traveling, and large family events are all instances where I would consider wearing a mask inside because it would be safer,” Fields said.
Merchant reiterated this point and stressed the value of mask-wearing, despite no longer being required.
“Even without a government mandate, it’s safer for everyone if everyone wears a mask,” Merchant said.