Editorial: Why the California-wide mask mandate makes sense right now
Here we are, feeling as though we’re back to the beginning: The state has now ordered masks be worn in public indoor settings, whether the wearers are vaccinated or not.
And to Californians’ credit, so far there have been no big statewide protests, just a bunch of yahoos disrupting business in some stores in Ukiah by refusing to wear masks. There’s also been a lot of muttering on social media. That’s fine. Just mutter behind your mask at the store. And for those holdouts still of the “If you want to wear a mask, fine, but I don’t want to” belief, remember that the primary function of masks is to keep your germs from infecting others, not to protect yourself. No one has a constitutional right to endanger public health.
By now, though, many people in the state seem to realize that wearing masks in stores and other indoor public places can be an effective, low-sweat way to protect themselves and others.
Even with the mask mandate lifted for vaccinated people, some may opt to keep wearing them until the pandemic is over or for other protection.
It helps that half of California, including Los Angeles and most of the counties in the Bay Area, reinstated the mask mandate over the summer in response to the Delta variant and the rise in cases and hospitalizations. But there’s been a big difference between going to a store in L.A. County and one, say, just over the border in Orange County, where the custom was generally that you didn’t need a mask if you’d been vaccinated. With no one checking, it was pretty safe to assume that at least some of the unmasked were also unvaccinated.
COVID-19 rates have been rising and it’s unclear right now whether that’s from the new Omicron variant, which appears to be twice as transmissible as Delta. COVID-19 has been spreading so fast at Cornell University in New York that the school is going to remote learning and canceling athletics. Evidence of the Omicron variant was found in a significant number of the cases, the university announced.
In the absence of clear knowledge about the threat of Omicron, the smart thing to do is act with caution — not with panic. And that’s exactly what this new mask mandate does. No stores need to close, no activities need to be halted. The mandate is temporary for now, lasting one month. Californians are being told to mask up through the holidays, when more people shop and get together and go out to restaurants — and thus are more likely to be exposed to the virus and expose others to it.
A student says many people her age feel naked without a mask and it’s adults who are putting us at risk of repeating the last year and a half.
By the time the month is over, we should know a lot more about what kind of threat Omicron presents. In the meantime, mask wearing has reduced the incidence of regular colds, flu and bronchitis during the worst of the pandemic. The Cleveland Clinic says masks played a role in slowing the transmission of those other diseases, and the common cold and other familiar respiratory illnesses returned when masks came off. One day, it will almost certainly be a personal choice whether to wear a mask, but it could prove a wise decision in flu and cold season.
It’s disappointing that the world hasn’t managed to crush COVID-19 nearly out of existence, and the return to masks is a dispiriting reminder of that. We’ve learned so much and are living so much better today than 20 months ago. But this is a battle where we cannot yet claim a victory. For now, wearing a mask is not a terrible imposition on our quality of life. Even better — get fully vaccinated.
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