Dr. Carina Marquez. Feb. 1, 2021.

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As wearing masks in schools becomes optional in San Francisco and takes effect next Monday, local doctors pointed out today that vaccinations remain the best way to avoid severe illness, but Latinx and Black children still lag behind in vaccination rates. While severe sickness is less likely among younger children, inoculation can significantly lower the chance of severe infection, said Dr. Carina Marquez, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF during a Latino Task Force health meeting on Monday. 

And, especially with omicron, “boosting is critical,” she said. Only 19 percent percent of 12 to 17-year-olds have been boosted, she said, though they are eligible.

Latinx, Black, Native American and Pacific Islander children lag far behind Asian and white children for vaccinations. 

According to the Department of Public Health, about 67 percent of San Franciscans ages 5 to 11 received a vaccination dose. However, the vaccination rate for that age group is 29 percent among Black children, 48 percent among Latinx children, 22 percent among Native Americans, and 34 percent among Pacific Islanders. These statistics are outpaced by both white and Asian vaccination rates, which is reported at 64 percent and 81 percent respectively, for the same age group.  

The Health Department also pointed out a disparity for Black teens. About 52 percent of Black youth ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, compared to 90 percent of San Franciscans that age overall. 

Masks can be a useful tool in preventing spread, especially among those who are not vaccinated. “There is data showing that mask mandates do have a role, and are associated with decreased rates of Covid-19 in schools,” Marquez said. 

But as the school district will relax, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has relaxed, guidance on indoor mask-wearing, Marquez has received multiple questions about masking, and where San Francisco is currently in the pandemic. Here are her answers.

What does ‘endemic’ mean, and is Covid-19 endemic?

“Endemic” really means a healthy condition that occurs at a steady state among a population. So you have this predictable rate of infections, and I don’t know if we’re there yet. We don’t know what’s coming for the future. And so I think that’s important to just be aware that while mitigation measures can come off, we need to also be prepared if cases surge.

What are cases like right now? 

We had our massive omicron peak [at 2,408 cases in January]. We are at 120 cases in the current seven-day average.

How long can I wear my mask? 

For those disposable masks, the CDC says you can wear them up to five times. In general, I just say a simple approach: When it’s dirty. Or if, you know, the elastic gets broken, then please change it. 

Can I wash my KN95 or N95?

You can’t.

What type of mask should my child wear?

Wear what works for them. A cloth mask is better than no mask, but a surgical mask is a little bit better, and then KF94s or N95 for kids offers better protection than the others. But again, you know, it depends on what your kid will wear. A practical approach is really important. [Marquez’s daughter prefers the KF94 because she finds it more comfortable.]

Is my child breathing carbon dioxide if wearing a mask?

The carbon dioxide molecules are really small, and really can’t be trapped by masks. There was a sort of fake study where someone was wearing a mask, and they were measuring carbon dioxide molecules and they saw it go up. But that was really because they were measuring what was exhaled by the person as opposed to what was inhaled. 

Where can you get vaccinated? 

According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health: Two schools will host drop-in vaccination clinics for eight weeks, including Bret Harte Elementary School in the Bayview beginning Friday, Feb. 25 (continuing every Friday, 2 to 6 p.m.) and Rosa Parks Elementary School in the Western Addition beginning Monday, Feb. 28 (continuing every Monday, 2 to 6 p.m.). Additional school sites are being identified for short-term “pop-up” vaccination sites. 

Visit our Mission Local vaccination page here. 

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REPORTER. 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 on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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