California · COVID-19

UCSF expert to Newsom: following the science should lead to “immediately” lifting mask mandate

The reticence of California’s public health officials to list the state’s mask mandates after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced that fully-vaccinated Americans no longer needed to wear masks led a top epidemiologist in the state to call for the rollback.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a top coronavirus expert at the University of California San Francisco, said that the Newsom administration should relax mask requirements to come into conformity with Federal guidelines.

“There is immense collateral damage that comes from not easing restrictions after most people are vaccinated,” Gandhi said Friday, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. “It sends a message that there’s still a danger when there isn’t one, and then schools remain closed and businesses suffer. Some collateral damage from restrictions needed to occur when we didn’t have vaccines, but now that we have them, there’s no justification.”

On Thursday after the CDC released its new guidance, state public officials said they were studying the new rules. Gov. Gavin Newsom said a rollback on mask mandates could have arrived on Friday, but no announcement came.

Instead, three of the four states that comprised Newsom’s much-ballyhooed “Western States Pact” – Nevada, Washington, and Oregon – announced they were reversing mask edicts for fully-vaccinated residents and visitors.

Las Vegas casinos and resorts, in particular, swiftly lifted their rules to allow guests to visit unmasked.

For Gandhi, the message of not repealing mask orders undercuts months of messaging about the effectiveness of vaccines and more than a year of Newsom’s proselytizing about “following the science” in making decisions related to the pandemic.

“If California doesn’t adopt this new guidance even though it has a very high vaccination rate and the highest rate of children out of in-person learning, I think public sentiment will start swinging towards people believing the state took an approach that didn’t follow science,” she added. “California has been criticized for taking a more restrictive approach than the CDC recommended, and it did not lead to better health outcomes. The new CDC guidance is based on science, and I think it’s likely — or at least I hope — California will immediately follow.”

“In November, the CDC updated its guidance to note that masks protect the wearer,” she said. “So you can be a masked, unvaccinated person in a store and still be protected against someone who is unvaccinated and unmasked. I have a 13-year-old who isn’t vaccinated yet and until he is, I would feel comfortable with him going to a store masked while others are unmasked.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.