Mask mandate rescinded but health experts still recommend face coverings for protection from COVID-19

The California Department of Public Health announced on Twitter that although wearing a mask is no longer required it is still strongly recommended.
Posted at 6:25 PM, Feb 16, 2022

There is still a lot of confusion around when and where to wear a face mask. The easy answer is to carry one at all times.

“I’m going to continue wearing a mask," said Ron Jeffries, who lives in Arroyo Grande.

Veronica Douglas said she is tired of face masks but will wear them in public.

“For me, I just don’t want to wear it, and I don’t know, that could be selfish, but I do do it in other people’s spaces if they require it,” Douglas added.

Some residents in San Luis Obispo County plan to keep a mask handy.

“I think that in some instances, I’ll probably still wear one, but we’re double vaccinated, boosted and unfortunately had Omicron, so we feel like we’re a little bulletproof at the moment,” explained Vikki Mitchell, San Luis Obispo resident.

The California Department of Public Health announced on Twitter that although wearing a mask is no longer required it is still strongly recommended.

“Facemasks, as we know, are very helpful in preventing COVID spread and getting the disease itself,” said Dr. Thomas Vendegna, French Hospital Medical Center Chief Medical Officer.

San Luis Obispo County Public Health is aligning with the state’s guidance.

“Vaccination rates are higher, we also have treatment available in ways that we didn’t at that time and our hospitals are in a much better situation than they were before,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County Health Officer. “Omicron also tends to not be as devastating a variant as we saw with the summer surge which was the Delta variant.”

There are exceptions.

“Masks are universally required and that includes schools, which I’ve been hearing a lot about, but that is part of the state order as are other settings such as long-term care nursing homes, healthcare facilities, correctional facilities, and public transportation,” Dr. Borenstein added.

Statewide, numbers are going down, according to the California Department of Public Health.

On Jan. 4, 2022, the seven-day average case rate was 212.8 per 100,000 people; now it is 46.1 cases for every 100,000 residents.

Locally, though, the average is higher than in the state.

In SLO County, the current seven-day case average rate is 54.8 for every 100,000 and in Santa Barbara County it is 61.5 cases per 100,000.

“I think where it becomes a problem is if you are not fully vaccinated and boosted because you are at high risk. What I’d like to see is that the case rate be a little lower before they lifted the mask ban,” Dr. Vendegna added.

When it comes to crowded spaces, experts recommend not letting your guard down.

“Outdoors, it isn’t as critical to wear a mask, but if you are in very, very crowded situation, we would still make that recommendation [to wear a mask] vaccinated or otherwise,” Dr. Borenstein said.

Health officials also continue to encourage testing and vaccination.

“You don’t want to be spreading it, so if you do have those symptoms, we highly encourage it and some of those rapid antigen tests now are widely available,” Dr. Vendegna said.

The SLO County Public Health Department is reminding community members that vaccination clinics are still available for those who are looking for a booster or getting vaccinated for the first time.