Here's why doctors believe it's the right time for California's mask mandate reversal

It will be the first time Californians haven't been required to wear masks indoors since December.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- California will remove the indoor mask mandate for vaccinated residents for the first time since December on February 15.

It is the sign many of us have been looking for - an easing of COVID-19 mandates as omicron numbers decline.

"I think a lot of people are feeling happy that we're in the right direction and moving things in that way, but also a lot of nervousness," UCSF Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong said.

Due to those nerves, Dr. Chin-Hong thinks many will keep masks on, at least for now, and that might not be a bad thing.

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"If we could be left with one cultural relic from the pandemic: if during times of bad colds and respiratory viruses going around, that we pull out that mask to not only protect ourselves, but to protect our neighbors," Dr. Chin-Hong said.

But for now, things are looking good and it will be the first time Californians haven't been required to wear masks since December.

In recent weeks, California has seen a 65% drop in coronavirus cases.

"For now, so far so good," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "Crossing your fingers that this is it, but you never know with COVID."

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That's why some doctors believe mask mandates may return in the future to help protect the workforce and prevent stressing the healthcare system if COVID flares up.

UCSF Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi says she would like to see nationwide metrics set to help reinforce any future mandates.

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"Metrics and objective criteria get us to points where it's not political, it's basically about safety and it makes us all understand and not think something is arbitrary," Dr. Gandhi said.

She suggests these metrics include four criteria:

  • ICU capacity in the region having at least 20% capacity left signaling low COVID hospitalizations
  • Having at least 75% total hospitalization capacity
  • 10/100,000 new admissions for COVID per day in a region. (50/100,000 is the metric for the flu)
  • Mask optional option, but clear guidance from health leaders of what masks are best


Based on some of these same metrics now, Dr. Gandhi believes it is safe to remove the mandate.

And like when other countries changed restrictions, she thinks this mandate reversal is a reward for decisions residents made to get here.

"They said, 'We would like to tell you that the vaccines work and in a way, we're rewarding you for getting vaccinated by showing that we got through the omicron wave so much better because we had higher immunity, and thank you Californians, and here's your reward to go back to more normal life.'"

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