New California Legislation Repeals Statewide, Universal Mask Mandate Beginning February 15

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Heather Khalifa/TNS

A person wearing a mask sits among signs that promote social distancing with seating at City Hall in January.

Teal Davis, Staff Writer

   California is set to end the current statewide mask mandate for vaccinated individuals in indoor settings beginning Tuesday, Feb. 15. 

   On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced California’s plan to lift the statewide mask mandate for individuals in indoor settings. Gov. Newsom shared news of the state’s plans to lift the mandate in a tweet on Monday, along with assurances that, “CA’s case rate has decreased by 65% since our Omicron peak” and “hospitalizations have stabilized across the state.”

   In a statement released on Tuesday, the San Diego County Office of Education explained their plans to continue to require masks in classrooms, stating, “The indoor mask mandate, which has been a cornerstone of the state’s COVID-19 strategy since the start of the school year, remains in effect for all K-12 students and staff.” The San Diego Community College District schools; San Diego City, Mesa, Miramar, and the College of Continuing Education, will continue to require masks during in-person classes. The district clarified that, despite the Department of Public Health’s choice to lift the mandate, “This will not change the District’s policy, which requires all individuals on District property to wear an acceptable face covering while indoors and while outdoors and within six feet of others”.

   The current mandate, which took effect back in December due to the Omicron variant, was originally set to end in January, however the order was extended for another month into February. While the state of California has lifted the previous mandate, several counties including Los Angeles and some Bay Area counties have announced that they plan to keep the indoor mask mandate. While Los Angeles is currently planning to keep the order, they have outlined the requirements that would be necessary for the mandate to be lifted for the county. L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer explained that the current hospitalization numbers remain too high for the county to responsibly reopen. 

   Despite the responsibility of slowly lifting requirements intended to keep individuals safe, it is clear that many people are ready for pre-pandemic life to return. California is one of many states which have recently announced upcoming changes to their mask requirements, with several states also lifting requirements for students and employees indoors. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “two in three Californians (67%) say that, when it comes to where the country stands in the coronavirus outbreak, the worst is behind us.” And as vaccination rates increase, the study revealed that 57 percent of Californians are either minimally or not at all concerned that they will get the coronavirus and require hospitalization.

   However, despite extensive planning and cautious legislation, it is difficult to predict whether another variant will arise or further mask mandates will be required. According to UC San Francisco, epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford, “What variants [will] emerge…is really pretty much anyone’s guess…There’s just no predicting them, unfortunately.” 

   The recognition that there may only be so much legislation and preparation possible for preventing another variant has become a more popular mindset as the pandemic has continued. Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger wrote in a tweet that, “​​We need to trust the public to make the best personal decisions for themselves based on their unique risks and circumstances”.

   Despite Coronavirus case surges at the beginning of the year, the state is beginning to transition into lighter restrictions as Californians become vaccinated and hospitalization rates steadily decrease.