By David M. Greenwald
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.”
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?