With the end of California’s COVID-19 State of Emergency on Feb. 28, state health officials announced the end of the statewide mask mandate in high-risk settings, effective April 3. High-risk settings include health care settings, long-term care facilities, senior care facilities, homeless shelters, emergency evacuation centers and correctional facilities.
On the same day, California will also end its vaccination mandate for health care workers, including staff in adult and direct care, correctional facilities and detention centers. Health officials explained that updated requirements for general community settings remain unchanged.
“A lot of people in Berkeley still wear masks,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison. “That’s a personal choice at this point.”
Despite California’s more relaxed mask mandates for indoor settings since February 2022, Harrison noted that many community members are choosing to continue wearing masks.
According to an announcement from the California Department of Public Health, wearing masks is especially important in areas where “vulnerable people are residing or being cared for.” Such people include those who are unvaccinated, are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions and are encouraged to take extra precautions.
The announcement added that health care facilities and other high-risk settings should implement individualized plans to determine what is most appropriate for the public health of their community.
“All businesses and venue operators are encouraged to improve ventilation and air quality in their facility to prevent airborne respiratory infections and improve indoor air quality,” the announcement reads. “Local health jurisdictions and entities can implement additional requirements that go beyond this statewide guidance based on local circumstances.”
Tanya Bustamante, manager for the City of Berkeley Health, Housing and Community Services Department’s Aging Services Division, said in an email that senior centers managed by the division are still “strongly encouraging the use of face masks.” With the health of the senior community remaining a priority for Bustamante, she noted that centers will continue to practice health and hand hygiene and will still be cleaned and sanitized daily. She also added that most staff in the senior centers will continue masking up in shared spaces.
Although some residents expressed relief and optimism over the mask mandate being lifted, many will continue to mask themselves “to protect themselves and those around them,” according to Bustamante.
In addition to California’s updated masking requirements, Harrison noted other public health concerns that could impact the spread of COVID-19 in the Bay Area community.
“To me, what I’m more concerned about is ensuring that buildings are safe, that there’s adequate ventilation, that people aren’t forced into close quarters with other people,” Harrison said. “I think we need to work on that as well.”