Is San Jose ready to go maskless?
Kevin Howard and Al Areciado eat brunch at Flames Eatery in downtown San Jose. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated people can ditch their masks when indoors and outdoors. But local guidelines aren’t as open yet.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday he will end the state’s mask mandate on June 15, nearly a year after he first required masks in all public spaces. It will be the closest the state has come to ending COVID-related restrictions.

    But signs of the pandemic ending are all over San Jose already: Many restaurants are offering indoor seating and operating at increased capacity, and more residents are opting to go maskless outdoors amid reports of “misleading” numbers of outdoor transmission.

    Some San Joseans are eager to get back to normal amid the governor’s announcement.

    One such resident, Dalal, who declined to give her last name, was walking her dog Friday outside the Martin Luther King Library in downtown San Jose without a mask. Dalal said she had a good reason—she’s fully vaccinated.

    “I see two sides to this argument,” she told San José Spotlight. “Now that the CDC is allowing people to not wear masks outside if people are fully vaccinated, I’m with it. But unless everyone is fully vaccinated, I don’t think we can just open up.”

    People walking in downtown San Jose. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Santa Clara County has pushed for residents to wear masks since early spring of last year.

    A spokesman for the county’s Public Health Department said officials are waiting for a directive from the state public health department before officially easing the local mask mandate.

    The California Department of Public Health is working toward a full reopening next month by pushing all residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

    “With over 33 million vaccines administered and one of the lowest case rates in the country, California continues to encourage all eligible Californians to get vaccinated as the state looks to fully reopen on Jun. 15,” reads a statement from the department.

    The news comes as the CDC eased its guidelines earlier this week for fully vaccinated people who are not immunocompromised, saying that those who have completed their COVID-19 shots can ditch their masks both indoors and outdoors if they’re not on a plane or on public transportation, regardless of how many people are around.

    As of this week, the state has a 1.1% positivity rate, consistently one of the lowest in the nation. In Santa Clara County, positive cases have plummeted to a 69 one-week rolling average from a peak of 2,200 in January.

    Santa Clara County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody is featured in this file photo. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    The county is still not in the least-restrictive yellow tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which allows most businesses to open indoor operations with minimal modifications. But that might not matter come June 15, as the entire state will join nine other states that have fully lifted restrictions and 38 other states that will soon do so.

    Though the state is gearing up to lift COVID restrictions, some local businesses are on the fence about losing masks.

    At Flames Eatery & Bar in downtown San Jose, General Manager Joel Castro said he’s still cautious about letting customers go fully maskless. A partial reopening brought mixed positives for him, as the weather earlier in the year was not favorable for outdoor eating. Now, he’s considered requiring masks even as the state lifts its mandates until he feels “comfortable.”

    “Now that we’re open inside, business is starting to pick up and people feel more comfortable. That’s a good thing,” Castro said. “I don’t think it’s time for us to take the masks off. There’s no need to rush.”

    A look at Flames’ outdoor seating. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Just this week, Castro said he kicked out a customer—who claimed they were fully vaccinated—for refusing to wear a mask.

    “I don’t care who you are. This is my location,” Castro said. “You want to be inside, you have to wear a mask.”

    Castro himself is fully vaccinated and said much of his staff is too. “We have employees and we need to make sure they feel safe,” he added.

    Patrons Al Preciado and Kevin Howard believe Newsom’s decision is the correct one, but opined that the state could have lifted restrictions sooner if fewer people resisted wearing masks when the pandemic began. Both men said they are getting their second doses of the vaccine next week.

    “People wore masks even before the pandemic out of courtesy,” Areciado said. “I think we should just keep wearing masks for now because it’s important that people not forget that other viruses spread.”

    Howard, however, is ready to ditch his mask as soon as he can.

    “I’ll still wear one if I have a cold,” Howard said. “But I think the CDC knows what they’re talking about.”

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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