Bay Area counties may reject the rollback of mask rules

Bay Area counties may reject the rollback of mask rules touted by Governor Newsom.

"I think it's premature to say we can take off our masks, especially indoors," said Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis.

Willis was reacting to comments Newsom made Tuesday in Southern California.

"We'll make guidance recommendations, but no mandates," said Newsom, describing how California will revert to far fewer Covid restrictions as early as June 15. "That world looks a lot like the world before we entered the pandemic, we're not wearing face coverings, we're not restricted in any way, shape, or form doing the old things we used to do."

The only exception, Newsom said, would be large-scale indoor events such as conventions. 

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"Only in those massive, large settings, where people from around the world, not just the country, are convening and people are mixing in real dense spaces."

Some people rejoice at that prospect.

"Oh I'd love it, I'm so for it, I'm just done with masks and I think this COVID thing is pretty much under control," said a San Rafael woman, pulling on her mask as she entered Northgate Mall.

Others resist the change.

"I think it's politically driven and if there's a reason to wear masks, we all ought to be wearing masks," said a man stopping at Peet's Coffee at the same mall.

Wednesday, Newsom appeared to retract his prediction a bit, saying "for indoor activities, we will still have, likely, some mask guidelines and mandates," but predicting they would be lifted "sooner than later."

His eagerness to shelve masks mirrors the CDC, which also hinted at relaxed masking as more Americans are vaccinated.

SEE ALSO Gov. Newsom signals end of mask mandate on June 15

"Being able to lift the mask mandate feels ambitious and doesn't feel safe yet," cautioned Willis, who noted California counties can choose to remain stricter than the state and some may require masks longer or in more settings.

"We may feel we're done with this virus but it's not done with us yet," said WIllis, "and I think July or August may be a more reasonable time frame for us here in Marin County." 

With COVID-19 variants and vaccine hesitancy still factors, health officers regard masks a simple and effective strategy.

"The problem is if you're in a group of people, you don't know who's been vaccinated and who hasn't, like an indoor theatre for example," warned WIllis.

Business owners, whether retail, gyms or restaurants, await the new directives.

"We'll play by the rules whatever they tell us we need to do," said Bill Capetanos, owner of Mulberry Street Pizzeria in San Rafael.

Capetanos says he will find it a relief not to police mask-wearing among customers when that day comes.

He admits the challenge for his employees will be getting comfortable being bare-faced once more.

"Some of my staff were like, 'we've gotten so used to it, I'm going to have to get used to not wearing it again.'"

Masks have been mandatory in California's indoor and public spaces since last June 18th.

So a rollback on June 15 would be almost exactly one year later.

"They're awful, you can't breathe, I'm a teacher and it's hard to work," said a San Rafael woman who admitted she has made peace with wearing masks. "It gets sweaty and it's a hassle but I think it' has kept a lot of us safe."