Keep Masking, Bears! County Health Official Recommends Masking Indoors

In the past few weeks, our COVID-19 case numbers have been going up, following a county- and nation-wide trend. M-A had 33 cases the week of May 16th and 21 cases the week of May 23rd. Prior to this surge and since the last spike in January, M-A was only experiencing between zero and ten cases each week. Contrary to the District’s prediction from March, San Mateo County maintains that masks are “Strongly Recommended,” especially indoors, and the recommendation doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. 

Right now, San Mateo County has one of the highest case rates in the Bay Area, and the Bay Area has among the highest case rates in California. Communications Officer for San Mateo County Health Preston Merchant said, “There are a couple of reasons for that, as the health officers and other health officials will note. We do have very strong testing in this area and in San Mateo County, so that means we have a lot of data and that we’re identifying more cases.”

He continued, “The other thing is that we have a high rate of vaccination in the Bay Area. The unfortunate thing is that COVID is impacting people who have been vaccinated too. So while we were very successful earlier, it’s harder now with the highly transmissible Omicron. As we’ve taken away some of the measures about the mask mandates and mandatory vaccinations, it’s a little easier for COVID to spread now.”

Although hospitalizations aren’t as bad as they were a year ago, Merchant said, “It’s still something that we’re very concerned about, and you really don’t know how much farther the cases are going to go up…The safest thing right now is for everyone to wear masks inside. That’s our strong recommendation. And if we do that, we hope that the cases will flatten out and the hospitalizations will not increase.”

Although inequalities along racial and socioeconomic lines persist in terms of COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates, Merchant said, “in communities that have not been as highly vaccinated before, those numbers are beginning to [improve], and we’ve improved upon the county average. That’s a testament to the work of the people in those communities, for helping spread our message and make people aware.” Our previous story on students unmasking showed that M-A students are confused by the “strong recommendation” for masking and are increasingly likely to remove their masks, particularly if those around them are. However, it appears that the “strong recommendation” isn’t going away anytime soon. Merchant wanted to “remind everyone that even though the mandates have mostly gone away, summer is here, and it seems like maybe the pandemic is behind us, it’s really not. It’s as bad now in some ways as it has been in the past. We really want to make sure that people pay attention to all of the safety measures that are in place and take the best care that we can.”

Maia Goel is a senior and a first-year journalist at the M-A Chronicle. She enjoys writing about the M-A community and current events. Outside of school, she likes to dance and spend time with friends.

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