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    It’s Not Time to Unmask Yet

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    In recent weeks there have been changes to the guidance issued by some officials and agencies regarding the use of masks to help protect the community from further spread of COVID. I, however, along with several public officials and experts, caution that the new, looser mask guidance is not based on COVID case rates dropping to the previously recommended and announced levels. Instead, some agencies and officials have changed their criteria, to remove masking, although the data of transmission levels does not support this change.

    As someone who is elected to represent the public, and who has been working on COVID issues since the beginning of the pandemic, including launching the nation’s first FEMA-supported large-scale COVID vaccination project (headquartered at the Oakland Coliseum, with additional community-based outreach with mobile vaccination sites in hard-hit communities), and as an MIT-trained scientist, I have been following the data and working to help protect the health of our communities. 

    I began masking around people outside my household, particularly indoors, in the spring of 2020, before health officials and the CDC began recommending it. I began wearing, recommending, and helping to obtain and distribute higher quality masks (such as N95, KN95) long before the CDC recommended them. And now, I will continue to wear a quality mask when indoors around people outside my household, even as some agencies are no longer requiring it; and I encourage the public to do the same.

    While we may wish the pandemic were over, wishing does not make it so. Taking effective measures to stop the spread, including masking, is the thoughtful response, and will help end the pandemic rather than contribute to pretending it is over.

    It is also important to note that even the very loose official new CDC guidance recognizes that there are many millions of people for whom the unmasking is incredibly dangerous—including those who cannot be vaccinated (which includes young children), the immunocompromised, and people with various disabilities and “pre-existing conditions.” 

    For the public at large to stop masking indoors, while transmission and case rates continue to be quite high, and while thousands of people per week continue to die of COVID, puts everyone at increased risk. Caring about our own lives should be reason enough to keep wearing masks indoors. I would hope that caring about the lives of others should also be a factor in our decisions. Those who are at heightened risk and those who cannot be vaccinated should not be put at major risk of death or serious illness. 

    Furthermore, the risk factors in most public discussions have been ignoring the danger of “long COVID,” in which even those who have a “mild” or “asymptomatic” initial infection may suffer a wide array of ongoing negative health impacts long after contracting COVID. 

    For those of us, including myself, who were activists fighting to save lives in the early days of the AIDS pandemic, when federal officials were still treating it as a joke, this current challenge is upsetting, but not unprecedented. We have actions we can take to help protect both ourselves, and one another. We can care about disability justice. We can care about the stark racial inequities being revealed and exacerbated by COVID. We can care about the people around us. And we can protect our own health.

    Wearing a higher quality mask, such as an N95 or KN95, substantially reduces the risk of COVID transmission, both for the person wearing it, and for the people around them. Why would we want to do any less?

    Councilmember At-Large and Council President Rebecca Kaplan, who is the Vice Mayor of Oakland, was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016 and 2020. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( and Facebook (

    Published on March 24, 2022