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.”