Deb, 68, was not wearing a mask when exercising on Valencia Street on Tuesday morning. "It feels good it’s much easier to exercise especially for somebody my age." Eric Corbel, 57, is going to keep using his mask because he “can contaminate others.” Photo by Clara-Sophia Daly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has told the fully vaccinated that it’s okay to forgo a mask outdoors, and California and San Francisco reiterated the same message on Monday.  But residents here still have mixed feelings about letting go of the masks they have been wearing for more than a year. 

“I think it’s on one hand [the recommendation] could be good, but on the other, bad, because the masks protect me,” said 67-year-old Luis Chavez Vasquez, who said in Spanish that he was hospitalized for coronavirus, and plans to keep his mask on. That was an opinion that seemed to be prevalent, and it has had a strange impact on those who have tried to go maskless. 

For Valerie, a 58-year-old Bernal Heights resident who is fully vaccinated, observing others still wearing masks felt “a little curious.”  She ditched the mask a couple days ago, “and then everybody was wearing masks, so I put mine back on,” she said. 

After learning from a Mission Local reporter that it’s no longer needed, she said, “It’s great to know the city has now agreed with the CDC. I’m going to go take mine off.”  

In the Mission, about 63 percent of all residents have received at least one dose, according to the city’s vaccination page. But even with more shots in arms and the low case rate overall, locals appear unconvinced that it’s time to quit the masks and celebrate. 

“There are pros and cons on that,” said Betty, who is fully inoculated, and who was not wearing a mask while she moved her car for street cleaning. Though she acknowledged the city reports some of the lowest case rates in the country, she’s nervous how a reopening society may quickly cause things to take a turn for the worse. 

“We’re opening more and more, and we don’t know if tourists from hotspots are coming,” Betty said, who told Mission Local she’d keep hers on. “I know a lot of people who will claim they’re fully vaccinated but are not, and that bothers me, because it can lead to spikes.”

The California mandate still encourages mask-wearing for those awaiting their vaccine doses to take effect (about two weeks after the second shot), and to continue wearing them in crowded settings, such as concerts, festivals or sports events. San Francisco is eligible for the state’s yellow reopening tier, which signals minimal transmission.

At present, San Francisco now boasts that 72 percent of residents 16 and up have received at least one vaccine shot, but most of the Mission residents spotted on Tuesday were still covered up.

Some are willing to forego their masks, but want to wait for their second shot to kick in. Hank Wilson just got his second dose on Monday, and was still wearing a mask as he walked near Hampshire and 21st streets today. “I’m wearing a mask right now, obviously, but at this point I’m eager to not wear a mask. But not everybody’s vaccinated yet, so wearing a mask makes sense.”

To Wilson and others, masks symbolize care for the community. “Covid has made us think how people perceive us, and are we doing what we can to make people safe?” Wilson said. “It’s a signal to say to someone passing in the street, ‘I am conscious of Covid, and this is something I care about.’”

In other parts of the nation, that sentiment has delayed people from losing the mask, especially if they view it as a polarized political symbol. Dr. Monica Gandhi, a UCSF professor of medicine and infectious disease expert, alluded to that when the CDC relaxed guidelines last week. She tweeted that she’d stop wearing masks outdoors, except in crowds. 

“Please don’t glare at me,” Gandhi tweeted on April 27

Still, the tide may be turning on masks. Max and Helene, a French couple, can’t wait to be fully vaccinated and toss face coverings aside. Already, the pair was strolling with their mask and bandana off, only putting them back on when people passed within six feet.  

“Not being able to see the face of other people is boring,” Max said. And now that the weather’s better, they’re excited to go hiking and pass by people on the trail without having to stop and cover up. 

Raquel Medina, a 26-year-old grad student hasn’t been wearing a mask while she’s been walking the dog, as she “doesn’t stumble across a lot of people,” and is fully immunized. But she doesn’t yet foresee other San Franciscans following suit. 

“I still think people are very cautious here,” Medina said, but she’s following the data. “San Francisco is the safest city in the country … If it were anywhere else, it would be different.”

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Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

Clara-Sophia Daly

Clara-Sophia Daly is a multimedia storyteller and reporter who has worked both in print and audio. A graduate of Skidmore College where she studied International Affairs and Media/Film studies, she enjoys...

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11 Comments

  1. I got 1st shot last week and will continue to mask outdoors until 2 weeks after I get 2nd shot I take Muni and have to mask on bus so no difference to me to keep mask on to and from bus.
    With SF in yellow tier today, we are in balance point of continuing to drop in cases due to additional vaccinations vs backsliding due to relaxation of safety rules. As others have said, we are getting to end of game and have finally gotten ahead of the virus but let’s not let up and give the virus a chance to put us back into orange tier or worse. I am waiting until June 15 to ditch mask when I will have max protection from 2nd shot and hope that we get there with no fumbles or interceptions and that we will be below 1 or 2 cases a day on average.

    1. So, she’s not following the science? Or is it that she’s not following “your” science? Please tell us more about your background in epidemiology.

    2. We are averaging 3/100k cases in SF. Most cities doing really well are averaging around 30/100k. Only 7 people were in the hospital the last time I looked at the SFGov page. Looking for “less than 1-2 cases” is insane. Again, outside is NOT A RISK. FACTS.

  2. monica gandhi has done more to embolden conservatives in SF than trump ever could. he’d be proud

    1. You mean she has used evidence and facts when it comes to outdoor masking? Wow. You really have some hate for the experts. How self-righteous do you have to be to say “I’m a good person, I care about the community” and then NOT listen to 14 months of science data. Vaccinated or not, the outdoor transmission is not a risk, and certainly not when passing people on a sidewalk, and thankfully most adults here have been vaccinated with at least one shot. SF people have lost their minds. The risk is just not there. As hard you want to make it a thing.

  3. I live in the 24th/Mission area and keeping the mask on even though I’m vaccinated seems like the polite thing to do, just because there are always people around. Also, it’s more practical if you’re running errands, since you have to keep putting it back on to get on the bus or go into stores.

    1. The polite thing to do? What do you have against Fauci? Do you want to defund the CDC? Have you spoken with a medical expert? Science and medicine does work off perceptions of politeness. Wearing something out of politeness is the definition of virtue signaling. Outside transmission does not happen unless you have a face to face length conversation with minimal wind or air movement. Look at all of the studies out of China from Spring 2020 if you are unsure. We have known this for a while. But the CDC was very cautious in letting the rules evolve.

      Do you not respect the WHO? The organization Asia followed for the pandemic. They clearly state not to wear masks outside while exercising:
      https://www.who.int/images/default-source/health-topics/coronavirus/myth-busters/mythbuster—masks-and-exercise.tmb-1920v.png?sfvrsn=2d51cd94_2

      CDC data in their most cited and longest running mask study. It was a 1.2% reduction in hospitalization if over 65 and a 2.9% reduction for 40-64. It was a slightly better 5.6% for adults 18-64 overall. A very important reduction that saved lives, but one that is far off from the perception people have about them. This was from March until mid-October. Before vaccines and any natural immunity in a community. Masks outside on the other hand is entirely irrational and has not been proven to be beneficial.
      https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7006e2.htm?s_cid=mm7006e2_w

  4. “The city’s acting health officer says people do not need to wear masks while exercising outdoors and don’t need to pull the mask up over their face when passing people on the trail, saying passing people does not create a risk of transmission.” Passing people does not create a risk. Not a risk. Not a risk. Hope there are 12 PSAs about it for the next 6 months. Outside…Mask off…because y o u care. About science. And facts.

  5. It’s really just about peace of mind for oneself and others when you get close outside to wear a mask.

  6. I don’t have a background in epidemiology and am not arguing against Dr. Ghandhi. I understand the risk of infection is very low but not zero with the level of vaccination in SF and have no objection to folks not wearing masks outdoors. I continue to mask because I have not had 2nd shot yet, take public transit, am around crowds at bus stops while waiting, and have higher risk of more serious illness were I to be infected. I do have concerns about the more infectious variants.
    As to average of 1 to 2 cases per day on average, Australia is averaging 20 cases per day over last week for population of 25.75 million. Normalized to SF population of .88 million, Australia case rate is ~0.7 per day on average. Consider measles which is more infectious than even the SARS-Cov2 variants has a case rate of close to 0 in US. I am tired of having to take precautions over last 14 months and enjoy seeing restaurants and stores coming back. I am not arguing for people to keep masking outdoors in order to drive the case rate down further. I do hope that folks don’t just throw caution to the wind, e.g., continue to mask indoors in public venues where possible. And I would certainly find it welcome were the case rate to come done to 1-2 cases per day on average by June 15.

  7. (some) locals are hesitant… i am not one of them.
    each person do what you feel you need to do. no judgement either way!
    after over a year it will be wonderful to see the smiles of those who tend to share smiles with their fellow missionites!!

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