As COVID-19 cases continue to decline after the overwhelming Omicron surge of January 2022, you may finally begin to see the faces of strangers again while walking through the grocery store. As of February 15th, fully vaccinated residents of California are no longer required to wear a mask in public indoor locations. However, the mandate will remain in place for unvaccinated residents.
“Omicron has loosened its hold on California, vaccines for children under 5 are around the corner and access to COVID-19 treatments is improving.” Said Director of the California state Public Health Office, Dr. Tomás J. Aragón.
Cases reached record breaking highs in January of 2022, as the Omicron Variant was highly contagious and spread much faster than previous forms of the virus. At the height of the surge, Santa Barbara saw a 7-day average of over 3,600 cases. However, we saw relief through herd immunity and vaccinations, specifically booster shots. With so many people contracting the milder, yet more contagious Omicron Variant, many of us gained an additional immunity that can strengthen what we already have from our vaccines. Getting a booster shot adds another layer of protection to fight off COVID, not only from catching it, but also by lessening symptoms if you were to.
Consequently, cases were receding rapidly by the end of the month. As February is coming to a close, we are seeing as little as 140 new cases per week in Santa Barbara. In response, the California Public Health Office gave the state government the okay to lift indoor mask mandates for vaccinated residents. However, face masks will not immediately become a thing of the past. People who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine are still required to wear masks in doors. In some places, such as concert venues, this will be monitored by needing to show proof of vaccination upon entry. But most common public places are less strict.
Individual counties of California still have the option to keep masks mandated, it is up to their local governments. The same applies to businesses and shops, they can choose their own policies. As of right now, masks are still mandated in California schools for grades K-12, as well as in public transportation such as airplanes or train systems. However, the Santa Barbara County office of Education has set aside February 28th to re-evaluate the mandation of masks in schools. Lastly, people with underlying health issues of compromised immune systems are still recommended to wear masks indoors, as they are the group at highest risk.
“It’s so crazy that after almost 2 years of this pandemic, the mandate is finally being lifted. Although this is amazing progress, I hope we can continue to keep the community safe.” Said senior Mia Cannizzaro.
The mask mandate being lifted reflects a big step in the direction to the ever-anticipated end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though we all eagerly anticipate it, it is important to keep the necessary precautions in mind so we can approach the end sooner than later. In the end, the final choice is up to you. Despite masks no longer being mandatory, you should continue to do what feels safest to you and your family.