From that date onward, the only places that vaccinated Californians will be required to wear masks are: on and around public transit (e.g. BART, Muni, ferries and airplanes), indoors in K-12 schools and childcare settings, healthcare settings, homeless shelters, emergency shelters and and cooling centers.
This update on mask guidance — which the state has waited almost a month to implement after the CDC first announced their new guidelines back in May — will no doubt have many vaccinated Californians delighted to finally stop wearing masks.
But what if you’re not ready to scrap your face covering just yet?
We asked KQED’s social media audiences if they would in fact keep wearing a mask in certain situations after June 15, despite being fully vaccinated. And while many people told us they were looking forward to dispensing with masks, others gave multiple reasons that they wanted to keep wearing theirs a little longer.
We consulted Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at UCSF, on the reasons we’d heard for mask-wearing beyond June 15, asking how justified these concerns might be from a medical and social perspective. Read on for the full list — or skip to a particular one:
Familiarity, Habit and Control
Perhaps one of the simplest reasons for continuing to wear masks: We’ve been collectively wearing them for over a year. We’re now used to grabbing one before we leave the house, and accustomed to our jacket pockets being stuffed with face coverings from previous outings. After a year of public health messaging, many of us now automatically associate masks with safety.
While Chin-Hong said June 15 feels to him like “about the right time” for California to adopt the CDC’s guidance, he also stressed that continuing to cover your face, for whatever reason, is virtually without drawbacks.
“If people want to wear the masks, it’s not going to harm them,” he said. “Nobody ever dies from wearing a mask.”
If you’re feeling attached to your mask, you may not even be alone for the first few weeks after June 15. Chin-Hong notes that just because California is formally adopting these latest CDC guidelines on masks doesn’t mean a ton of people will immediately start observing them. The state officially aligned with the CDC’s previous set of guidelines — the update that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people could mostly ditch their masks outdoors — back in April, but many in the Bay Area have chosen to keep wearing face coverings outside anyway.
“I think it’s kind of reflecting, at least regionally, [some] people’s hesitancy to sort of dispense with the masks altogether,” said Chin-Hong. It could also be an indication that we might not see a great collective unmasking after June 15 just yet.
Concern For Unvaccinated Kids
Right now, children younger than 12 years old can’t get vaccinated (yet) in the United States. And some parents and caregivers are naturally concerned about keeping those kids safe from COVID, even as fully vaccinated adults around them are taking their masks off.
While Chin-Hong understands families’ fears around this, he said this concern is “only sensible if you think about context — and I think that’s where much of the guidance is probably not comprehensive enough.” This means it’s all about assessing risk.
Evidence shows that children under 12 are far less likely to contract and transmit COVID than older kids and adults, Chin-Hong said. But he thinks that even when they’re armed with these facts, many parents and caregivers are still “probably just uncomfortable about the idea of not having zero risk, even though everything in life is not zero risk.”
His ultimate advice? If you’re feeling worried about the kids in your life, masking is “a very mild intervention,” meaning that continuing to do it has very few downsides. What’s more, for caregivers, continuing to mask up might bring an element of control and agency that can feel highly comforting at this stage of the pandemic.
Another reason parents and caregivers might want to keep wearing masks after June 15? They may want to model mask-wearing for their kids to show it’s important to keep your family and community safe.
“You can’t tell your kid, for example, to wear a bicycle helmet when you don’t wear one yourself,” Chin-Hong reminded us, calling it “kind of Parenting 101.”
Wanting to Avoid Colds and Other Viruses
“I haven’t had a single cold during the entire pandemic because of my mask” is the essence of many comments we received from our audience. Several of you said it’s your reason for wanting to wear masks in certain settings beyond June 15.
We heard from many audience members who told us they would definitely keep masking on public transit, like BART, which will actually be required for several months anyway. That’s because the Transportation Security Administration has extended mask requirements across all United States transportation networks, including on buses, trains, planes and at airports, through Sept. 13.
Your mask — along with social distancing, and increased hygiene like hand-washing — has probably very well protected you against the usual common colds you’d otherwise have picked up in settings like BART. Unlike COVID, many colds also spread from infection-carrying surfaces (called fomites), and Chin-Hong said that this is where masks really help protect you against colds: because they reduce your ability to touch your nose and mouth.
On the flip side, if you’ve heard people talking about how having less exposure to viruses like colds is actually bad for your immune systems, Chin-Hong is happy to clarify: That’s “completely wrong.”
“That theory about your immune system not being ‘trained enough’ is kind of bonkers, because there are 200 different viruses that cause the common cold, at least,” he said. So in other words, being exposed to one cold virus doesn’t reduce your chances of getting another type of cold the next month.
That said, Chin-Hong said the true power of the mask is its ability to protect others from your infectious droplets. It’s the reason that many people have worn masks in crowded places for years when they’re sick, and why he hopes we’ll see this practice continue beyond the COVID pandemic. If more people do that, he said, “I think we’ll all probably have fewer colds in general in the population.”
In short: Keeping your mask on in crowed spaces where you’re likely to touch surfaces during cold and flu season is a good idea — especially if you’re not feeling great yourself.
Concern for Others With Health Conditions
Many fully vaccinated audience members told us that they would continue to wear masks out of concern for friends and family who are immunocompromised, or who have other health conditions that mean the vaccine might not offer them full protection against the coronavirus. Some audience members told us this concern also extended to wearing masks in public beyond June 15 out of consideration for strangers in the crowd who might also have these health issues.
Wanting to protect others in this way is a very valid thought, said Chin-Hong. And even though the science tells that fully vaccinated individuals are unlikely to spread COVID, if masking up around an immunocompromised person makes everyone involved feel safe and more comfortable, Chin-Hong said go for it. “Certainly there’s no harm in it,” he said.
If you’re immunocompromised yourself, Chin-Hong said the science is even more straightforward: Continuing to wear a mask in higher-risk settings, like crowds or indoors, is a good idea.