CA mask mandate lifts, businesses to set their own indoor protocols

Photo of "please wear a face mask" sign on a door
Anthony Angel Pérez/Senior Staff
Amid decreasing COVID-19 cases and a high vaccination rate, Berkeley is allowing businesses to set their own mask requirements for vaccinated individuals, while unvaccinated individuals will still have to wear masks indoors in public.

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Following the retraction of California’s indoor mask mandate, businesses in Berkeley will be able to establish their own mask rules for fully vaccinated individuals starting Wednesday.

The decision was motivated by the decline in severe COVID-19 infections, as well as increasing rates of vaccinations and boosters in the Bay Area, according to a city of Berkeley press release. Though the mandate was lifted, individuals are encouraged to continue wearing masks indoors to protect vulnerable individuals and those who cannot get vaccinated. 

Unvaccinated individuals above the age of two will still be required to wear masks in all public indoor settings, a different city of Berkeley press release noted.

“This new policy is an appropriate alignment with the goal of focusing on prevention of severe disease rather than preventing all infections from occurring, which is neither realistic nor appropriate from a public health standpoint,” said Joseph Lewnard, campus assistant epidemiology professor, in an email.

Relaxing indoor mask mandates is “an important and appropriate new step,” according to Lewnard. He noted severe infection from COVID-19 can be sufficiently prevented by vaccination and therapeutics.

Individuals who wish to continue wearing masks have enough information about the types of masks they should wear and the settings in which wearing masks would be beneficial, Lewnard added.

However, Amy Thomas, owner of Pegasus Books in Berkeley, said she is not satisfied with the city’s new mask rules — particularly due to safety concerns for her staff members. Thomas added the bookstore will continue to require masks in the store to protect the staff and their family members.

“I am a little bit disappointed in Berkeley, because they have been super cautious,” Thomas said. “It has really felt like a good backup for my staff who still go home to children who are not vaccinated.”

University Press Books, a bookstore in Berkeley, mainly operates as an online business currently, according to employee Alan Townsend. The store’s warehouse employees are fully vaccinated, but Townsend noted he will still wear a mask after mask rules are lifted.

Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn also urged Berkeley residents to continue wearing masks when required and to get tested regularly for the safety of their community.

“I hope residents will continue to do their part by respecting the rules set by each business, keeping in mind that it is still a stressful environment for employees,” said Alex Knox, executive director of Telegraph Business Improvement District, in an email. “It is best to assume that face masks are still required and don’t expect that things will change overnight on Feb. 16.”

Contact Rina Rossi and Amudha Sairam at [email protected].