Commentary: Should We Be Easing Mask Restrictions?

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Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced on Thursday that they were easing indoor mask requirements for certain indoor settings.  There are caveats to the new regulations: “so long as case and hospitalization rates remain stable or decline,” and they have to be places where people are fully vaccinated and where other safety measures are followed.

These settings include offices, gyms, and fitness centers, employee commuter vehicles, religious gatherings, and indoor college classes or other organized gatherings of individuals who meet regularly, not exceeding 100 people.

This change comes after the mayor a few weeks ago was caught in clear violation of the city’s mask mandate.

According to media accounts: “A video shows a maskless Breed — neither seated at a table nor positioned at a stationary counter — standing and dancing at the nightclub without any food or drinks in her hand. She also posed for photos while not wearing a mask…”

She defended her actions by stating, “At the end of the day, everyone who comes in here has to show proof of vaccination. That gives me a lot of reassurance.”

The political cover perhaps that Mayor Breed is trying to create aside, the question is whether this is a good idea—and, like many of these changes, I have mixed feelings.

There are some safeguards here.  The vaccine requirement, for one thing.  But that’s only a partial safeguard.  We know that people who are vaccinated are both less likely to get COVID and far less likely to get really sick when they do—but neither is 100 percent at this point.  Moreover, as reported earlier this week, research out of UC Davis shows that the viral load, which means the ability to transmit the disease, is about the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

With the Delta variant being at least twice as transmissible as the original version of the virus, it seems that vaccination alone at this time is not sufficient.

The policy does have the provision that it only remains in effect “so long as case and hospitalization rates remain stable or decline.”

But that’s been the biggest challenge with COVID.  Eased restrictions, to be blunt, have not and frankly do not work.  We have seen the same pattern over and over again—every time we have seen a decline of COVID, we have eased restrictions, and COVID comes back, often with more ferocity than before.

The change that San Francisco has implemented is relatively modest compared to the dropping of mask mandates across the country, but the impact of these changes has not worked.  We have yet to take the approach that this is working, let’s stick with it.  Instead, it has always been, COVID cases are dropping, let’s open things up and boom, COVID comes right back—every. single. time.

With that said, ultimately vaccines are the answer and, with this policy change focused in part on vaccines, there is a chance this could work.

First of all, it works in conjunction with vaccination requirements.  That’s probably the only way to get our vaccination population up—workplace mandates and access requirements.

You don’t have to get vaccinated, but if you want to go to the bar or the nightclub, you have to show your vaccination card.

Second, it’s modest and it is hinged on metrics of stable or declining rates.  That means if it starts to tick the COVID cases up again, they pull the plug on it.

Contrary to the opinion of one former FDA official, experts are concerned now about a fifth wave that could be worse than the one we saw from July until now.

Yesterday the number of new cases fell below 100,000 for the first time since the summer.

The New York Times reports: “A surge driven by the Delta variant is receding in the United States, but officials and experts say that increased transmission during the coming colder months remains a threat and that steady rates of vaccination are key to keeping the coronavirus at bay.”

Currently just 56 percent of the US population is fully vaccinated, far below the 70 percent goal that was set by July 4.

Currently there are about 950 thousand new doses a day, far below the three million in April but better than 625 thousand that occurred on September 28.

The Times notes: “Almost 40 percent of newly inoculated respondents said they had sought the vaccines because of the rise in cases, and more than a third said they had become alarmed by overcrowding in local hospitals and rising death rates.”

But the problem is, come November and December, unless we crank up those numbers, we are going to see another surge.  It’s a combination of factors—the lack of reach of the vaccinations leave a huge percentage of the populace vulnerable to infection and hospitalization.

The colder weather means less outdoor activity and natural social distancing.

The re-opening of schools put millions of children in the line of fire, and a good percentage will not have been vaccinated although Pfizer has announced its requirement for emergency authorization to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11, which could add 28 million people to the vaccination list.

And the holidays mean that there will be large gatherings of people who are unmasked and unvaccinated.

Add it all up and you have the recipe for a fifth surge and this one, they think, could be worse than the summer’s.

So while the SF easing makes some sense, I wonder if it makes more sense to just keep the measures in place that have worked well in the past, reducing the number of new cases?

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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20 thoughts on “Commentary: Should We Be Easing Mask Restrictions?”

  1. Keith Olsen

    San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced on Thursday that they were easing indoor mask requirements for certain indoor settings.  There are caveats to the new regulations: “so long as case and hospitalization rates remain stable or decline,” and they have to be places where people are fully vaccinated and where other safety measures are followed.

    LOL, methinks the mayor came out with this because she backed herself into a corner after getting caught maskless at a nightclub and making dumb statements like “Don’t feel as though you have to be micromanaged about mask wearing. Like, we don’t need the fun police to come in and try and micromanage and tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing.”

    These settings include offices, gyms, and fitness centers, employee commuter vehicles, religious gatherings, and indoor college classes or other organized gatherings of individuals who meet regularly, not exceeding 100 people.

    And the Black Cat nightclub, where members of the R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné! are performing.  No?

     

  2. Bill Marshall

    The justifications/criteria to relax standards/protocols are bogus… Ex.:  “as long as rates are stable or declining…”… yeah, depends on whether your ‘baseline’ is the peak or the trough.  Patently stupid using the peak, possibly acceptable if at a trough that has lasted 4-6 weeks, referable a record” trough.

    So much for “science”, as this is all political… science (and past experience) would indicate that relaxation of protocols (that appear to be working, or at least mitigating) is stupid, particularly given the new science that indicates ability to transmit (‘viral load’) is not correlated to vaccination status.  A vaccinated, asymptomatic individual can be a “carrier”.

    With that said, ultimately vaccines are the answer and, with this policy change focused in part on vaccines, there is a chance this could work.

    No… patently false, several fronts… vaccinations are not the answer… unless accompanied with the mask and distancing thingies… general immunity/resistance/avoidance is the answer… the newer science indicates the touch’ thingy is not a significant factor… [sorry, all you OCD folk who want people washing hands every 10 minutes]

    Unless we get to a “record low” trough in rates (for at least 6-8 weeks), we should ‘stay the course’… anything less is (or, borders on) irresponsible.

     

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I disagree – ultimately vaccines are the answer. Once everyone is vaccinated – if that ever happens – the risk of large scale infections drops to almost nill. Masks and distancing are short-term tools to use until that occurs.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Well, at least in SF, the Queen Breed made her scientific evaluation and decided to edict that masks aren’t always needed.  So quit acting like the fun police and micromanaging.  😉

      2. Alan Miller

        Once everyone is vaccinated – if that ever happens –

        You do realize there are thousands of people in Davis, thousands of not Republican people, who are anti-vaccine.  You might want to talk to some of them some time, maybe share an interview here, and then rethink the idea of ‘once everyone is vaccinated’.  That’s just in Davis.  Then get to flyover country where a bit less than half of Republicans won’t vaccinate, and that’s our baseline.  There are many tens of millions of US peoples who will never vaccinate.  That’s a reality we need to be real about and deal with as part of the strategy.

  3. Alan Miller

    San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced on Thursday that they were easing indoor mask requirements for certain indoor settings.

    Let me guess, retroactive a few weeks and applies only to clubs where Toni! and Toni! but not Toni! are playing a gig.

  4. Keith Y Echols

    1.  At what rate of infection do health officials believe it’s safe to remove masks/ease vaccination status restrictions as a community?  What are the target metrics and why?  Should the numbers of infections or the numbers of hospitalized infections be the metric?

    2.  Is a surge during the winter time inevitable no matter what we do now?…in terms of health policy?

    3. Do changes to the healthcare system in regards to vaccination status need to be implemented in terms of priority and access to service…. (and why haven’t health insurance companies began raising rates and dropping coverage for unvaccinated people?)

    4. I think there’s good news and bad news about infection and vaccinated people.   Bad News: as the UCD study says that viral loads in vaccinated people are as high as those in unvaccinated people.  Good News:  I swear I read somewhere that the time a vaccinated person is contagious is much shorter than an unvaccinated person (like days vs. weeks).  The virus infects a vaccinated person and it takes time for that person’s immune response to kick in so they’re contagious but then it gets cleared out of their system.  How does this effect public health policy?  Maybe more testing (for both) vs. vaccination status should be required for public gatherings?

    5.  Toni Tone Tony?  Dang!  That’s some good ole’ late 80’s early 90’s R&B/Hip-Hop music.  Funny, it’s only as I got older that I grew to really like this genre of music.  At the time I was more into Metal, Hard Rock and later “Alternative” Rock/Grunge.

  5. Bill Marshall

    The top 7 childhood vaccinations are between 80 and 90 percent.

    State?  National?  Please consider citing source of 80-90%…

    … not Republican people, who are anti-vaccine.

    Alan M nails it…

    Almost all the anti-vaxxer/questioning vaccination, the whole autism myth, folk I’ve spoken to are college educated (many with advanced degrees) are Demo or NPP.  Some Rep’s… except for the true “Trump-ettes”, most Rep’s I know are pro-vaccine, except re:  Covid.

    It makes no sense, but “it is”…

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Source: CDC

      National

      I suspect over time the political dynamic of COVID will recede, that’s why I presented the baseline stats.

    2. Keith Y Echols

      Almost all the anti-vaxxer/questioning vaccination, the whole autism myth, folk I’ve spoken to are college educated (many with advanced degrees) are Demo or NPP.  Some Rep’s… except for the true “Trump-ettes”, most Rep’s I know are pro-vaccine, except re:  Covid.

      By my observations, whole anti-vax thing has shifted.  The original anti-vaxxers were the fringe liberals.  This was back when it had to do with that stupid autism myth.  The most current group of anti-vaxxers are Right of Center (including the lunatic fringe) Conservatives.  Both these liberal and conservatives anit-vaxxers fall into the “Libertarian” political ideology.  Both liberal and conservative Libertarians believe that government and other people in general should leave them alone and that they should leave others alone.  The liberal libertarians want to be allowed be personally progressive, push the limits…etc… The conservative libertarians want to be left alone for god, guns and to not be forced to change.   Libertarians are crappy citizens.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        I think that’s a misread of the political spectrum. The fringe left and fringe right converge on those issues, the only thing that changed is under Trump the fringe left became catalyzed.

        1. Alan Miller

          catalyzed?  catalyzed to what?

          I don’t know that I’d call left anti-vaxxers ‘libertarians’, though I understand your point, KYE.  I’m left-right libertarian-ISH: I’ve never had flu shot, and I don’t believe I’ve been vaccinated for anything in half-a-century.  But I looked at this Covid-19 thing and decided this one was good on the risks vs. the benefits and went against my standard M.O., both for myself and for the whole.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Activated and empowered by Trump. I also would note I know a number of people who were once on the far left, who became Trumpists. And talking to them, I could see the connection between the two that you would on the surface think of as opposites.

        2. Bill Marshall

          You’re wrong, David.  The ‘liberal anti-vaxxers’ predate Trump by at least a decade… they were/are the one’s buying into the autism myth, etc.  Keith E pretty much has a handle on it, that they do not tend to trust government or social norms.

          Many are of the age that they are the children of parents who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s… “anti-establishment” (whatever the current establishment is)… “Don’t trust ‘the Man'”, etc.

          Trump didn’t ‘catalyze’ them… as to vaccines, for sure not.  His ‘anti-establishment’, populist themes may have given them ‘cover’, but that’s about it.

          Except for the last sentence, am in substantial agreement with Keith E’s assessment.  Have to say, I’ve not known someone who “professes” to be Libertarian, but the label could fit a number of people I’ve known or observed.

           

        3. Keith Y Echols

          I think that’s a misread of the political spectrum. The fringe left and fringe right converge on those issues, the only thing that changed is under Trump the fringe left became catalyzed.

          What’s a misread of the political spectrum?  Bill Marshall’s comment or mine?

          The fringe left and right converging on the issues is pretty much what I wrote….I think.

          I’m not sure what you mean by the fringe left being catalyzed under Trump. The fringe left anti-vaxxers were the most vocal about their (irrational) beliefs about vaccines before Covid.  They were mostly protesting vaccination of kids…the kind that’s been going on for years (mumps, measles, chicken pox, polio…etc…) and the majority of the rest of us take for granted.  With Covid it brought vaccinationto the immediate attention of not only the liberal anti-vaxxers but also brought in the radical right…..and as I said in my previous post; both of whom generally fall into the Libertarian socio-political category.

  6. Don Shor

    From the Kaiser Foundation, interesting discussion of the ‘wait-and-see’ non-vaxxed vs the ‘never’ anti-vax crowd.

    https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/kff-covid-19-vaccine-monitor-profile-of-the-unvaccinated/

    Mandates will increase the numbers of  ‘wait-and-see’ folks who get vaccinated. Because of the others, who are disproportionately Republican and conservative, we will have to continue wearing masks, maintain social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings and high-density social activities.

  7. Alan Miller

    “disproportionately Republican and conservative” nationwide.  Try finding a Republican in Davis.

    “we” [as in those of us in Davis] “will have to continue wearing masks, maintain social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings and high-density social activities” because of left-leaning non-vaxxers in Davis, not the rare Davis Republican.  I wouldn’t worry about attending a Republican house party in Arkansas if you aren’t going to be in Arkansas.

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