Masks will no longer be required in many places from Wednesday

Two months after it was put in place to handle the Omicron surge, California’s mask mandate drops at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, though face coverings are still needed in many settings, including schools, hospitals and public transport.

San Diego County coronavirus numbers continue to prove the pandemic is receding. The daily number of new case notifications received by the county health department fell below 1,000 on Saturday for the first time since Dec. 20, hitting 933 followed by 787 on Sunday.

Dr Mark Ghaly, Secretary of State for Health and Human Services, told a press conference on Monday that the downward trends in the number of new cases and hospitalizations gave confidence that there makes sense to revisit the mask mandate.

But, he added, although it is no longer a requirement, wearing a mask indoors, especially in crowded places, is a good idea given that transmission rates remain high by compared to previous quiet periods such as spring and early summer 2021.

“We still strongly recommend people wear them in indoor public places,” Ghaly said.

The public, however, largely ignored indoor masking rules in many places, especially restaurants. Generally, enforcement of mask requirements outside of healthcare and education has recently been almost non-existent. The point was illustrated at SoFi Stadium on Sunday when cameras filming more than 70,000 Superbowl attendees showed the vast majority had their faces uncovered.

Maintaining the mandate in schools, but ignoring it in stadiums, drew continued fire from many members of the public on Monday. Ghaly did not address the dichotomy when asked to comment on Monday.

He pointed out that the virus continues to wreak havoc even though case rates have fallen by more than 70% in the past month.

“People have lost their lives to this nasty virus, and it continues,” Ghaly said. “Having said that, we understand a little bit more about where this is heading and what has happened over the past few weeks, and that’s why we’re ready the day after tomorrow to allow guidance for public indoor environments.”

By far, the largest continuous mask requirement remains in K-12 schools. Ghaly said masks will continue to be mandatory in schools, although a reassessment is scheduled for February 28.

Dr. Davey Smith, chief of infectious disease research at UC San Diego, said he trusts the state’s public health apparatus to respond to trends in disease data by adjusting the answers that he asks for and sometimes demands from the public.

Widespread public health measures, he noted, depend on overall public compliance, and the collective will to pursue these measures is not infinite. Cutting things down, he said, is most important in the context of the next wave.

“The problem is there’s a lot of fatigue and there were a lot of people who weren’t wearing masks anyway,” Smith said. “Sometimes public health officials have to consider things like mask fatigue.

“Walking around shouting that people have to wear masks and nobody really does means that when we really need them to put on their masks, maybe they won’t.”

As of last summer, state face-covering guidelines continue to require people who are not fully vaccinated — boosters are not required — to wear masks in all “indoor public places and companies”.

Masks will also be required for public transport from planes and buses to ships and taxis. Masks will also remain in place in hospitals and other health care facilities, long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, prisons and other detention facilities.

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