Residents of seven Bay Area counties were told Friday that they should start masking up indoors again regardless of whether they're fully vaccinated, in an effort to slow the latest surge in new COVID cases driven by the Delta variant. But after a month of no masks in bars and restaurants — for patrons at least — the boomeranging guidance made for some awkward situations.
While many Bay Area residents have continued wearing their masks to go grocery shopping and even walk down the street, many others have relished in tossing the masks away when shopping, dining, and drinking — even though we've had to keep our masks in pockets and purses for use in rideshare vehicles and on public transit, and at certain businesses that never dropped their mask mandates.
KPIX spoke to a couple of people on the street in San Jose, with one man scoffing at the new voluntary guidance and saying, "Why would I wear a mask indoors? A lot of data has been published that it’s not really necessary to wear a mask at this time."
Speaking to the Chronicle on on Friday, one Pleasanton resident, Mark Richardson, compared telling vaccinated people to put masks back on is like "asking Superman to wear a bulletproof vest." And, he lamented, "I thought we were the ‘Follow the science’ state?"
At El Rio on Sunday, where the ten-year-old party Daytime Realness made a comeback after a 21-month hiatus, a worker managing the door announced to everyone in line outside that they would have to wear masks while walking through the indoor part of the bar and ordering drinks.
"And I don't want to argue about it," she said.
Still, the larger portion of the venue is outdoors on the back patio where all the masks came off.
At the cozy, historic Twin Peaks Tavern in the Castro on Saturday, no patrons or staff had masks their masks on inside.
The vast majority of new COVID cases being found are still among the unvaccinated, and outbreaks appear to be concentrated in pockets Bay Area cities where vaccination rates are low. In San Francisco, the highest number of recent new cases happened in ZIP code 94124, which is Bayview/Hunters Point; in the East Bay, a cluster was found in East Oakland and across the border in San Leandro, with ZIP codes 94603 and 94621 the hardest hit.
On Thursday, SF Mayor London Breed held a press conference in the Bayview to urge residents to seek out vaccinations if they had previously been reluctant, saying that Black residents of the city represented 28% of hospitalized COVID cases right now, despite representing only 5.6% of the city population overall.
But some breakthrough COVID cases among the vaccinated have been reported, with the state now saying that post-vaccination cases have happened in 0.07% of vaccinated people — up from 0.039% last month. That amounts to 14,365 breakthrough cases in California to date.
Restaurants, some of which were, up until June 15, requiring diners to mask up every time a server approached their table, are now in the awkward position of deciding whether to take the Bay Area health officers' voluntary guidance and enforce it indoors.
"I just don’t feel like we’re in a position to make requirements beyond what is mandated,” says Bob Cina, executive chef of District restaurants, speaking to the Chronicle. “People can make their own decisions."
Still, many restaurants and bars are taking this in stride, and we're likely to see varied responses and levels of precaution at different businesses in the coming weeks, based on the preferences of owners and staff.
One owner, Yuka Ioroi of Cassava restaurant in the Outer Richmond (which is actually closed for remodeling until August 13), tells the Chronicle that patrons should consider the fact that a little more masking now might save us for more stringent orders in the coming weeks if the surge intensifies.
"I don’t think a lot of restaurants can handle another shutdown," Ioroi says. “[Masking] might mitigate the risk of that."
Top image: An usher holds up a sign reminding fans to wear a mask during a San Francisco Giants game against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park on April 10, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)