Santa Clara County sees mixed reaction to mask mandate
Nguyet Nguyen doesn't mind wearing a mask in public and said the majority of shoppers at Grand Century Mall still don masks. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

While California’s indoor mask mandate expired earlier this week, Santa Clara County is likely weeks away from lifting its own requirement, drawing mixed reactions from residents and business owners.

“I think it’s dumb,” Chris Nuland, who works in a San Jose preschool, told San José Spotlight while wearing a mask. “The mandate is a little overboard at this point.”

As of Wednesday, people in most of the Bay Area who are vaccinated for COVID-19 can shed their masks while frequenting shopping malls, restaurants and other public indoor settings under the state’s order—except for Santa Clara County, the most populous county in the region.

Unvaccinated people—as well everyone who uses public transit or enters K-12 schools, hospitals, jails, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities—will have to keep their masks on per state rules.

Along with Los Angeles County, Santa Clara County has implemented some of the strictest rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. Despite its high vaccination rate of 84.4%, the South Bay is still seeing high numbers of infections and hospitalizations, Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said last week. Officials estimate the county will require indoor masking until at least March.

“We are looking very closely at our hospitalization case numbers and seeing encouraging trends,” Dr. Ahmad Kamal, county director of health care preparedness, told San José Spotlight. “We are optimistic about the current direction, but we are still not at the level we need to be.”

According to the latest data, the seven-day average of new infections in Santa Clara County has dropped from more than 3,000 cases on Jan. 25 to 943 as of Wednesday. County officials said the number needs to drop to 550 cases or below for one full week before they consider easing masking rules. Hospitalizations are trending in the right direction, but still too high, officials added.

San Jose State University students Ensiyah Syed and Sabrina Nabizada think other Bay Area counties have lifted their mask mandates prematurely. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Dr. Jorge Salinas, an infectious disease professor at Stanford University, said he’s not surprised Santa Clara County is still sticking to its rules.

“Santa Clara County is taking a slightly more conservative approach because it probably has a higher vulnerability index than other counties,” Salinas told San José Spotlight, referring to the number of people more at risk of catching and getting sick from COVID.

The county’s decision to maintain its mask mandate has drawn strong reactions from residents and businesses. Some, like Nuland, said vaccinated people should be able to make their own decisions. Others think masking is here to stay regardless of the mandate.

“We all have the responsibility to keep others safe,” Loan Vuu, owner of a health care and cosmetic shop in Grand Century Mall, told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “If things are better, then it should be up to each individual. But I don’t know if we’re there yet.”

Vuu said the majority of her customers and people frequenting the mall still don masks when indoors. Vuu also has boxes of surgical masks stocked in her store in case a customer needs one.

While eating lunch at the mall, shopper Nguyet Nguyen said she doesn’t mind wearing masks when she’s out in public.

“Out of 10 people you see out here, probably nine are still wearing masks,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight, adding many are doing it out of habit. “I don’t see any harm in it.”

Jay Ahmad, who owns Houdini’s Smoke Shop in downtown San Jose, said he stopped mandating masks at his shop a while ago. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

In downtown on Wednesday, many residents and San Jose State University students continued to wear masks as they walked down South Fourth Street.

SJSU students Sabrina Nabizada and Ensiyah Syed think other Bay Area counties have lifted their mandates prematurely. Nabizada said she’ll keep her mask on as she lives with people whose health conditions prevent them from getting vaccinated.

“So many people still don’t have a way to keep themselves safe besides masking,” she said. “It’s not fair to them.”

Jay Ahmad, who owns Houdini’s Smoke Shop in downtown San Jose, said he stopped mandating masks at his shop a while ago. Two customers in his shop Wednesday came in without masks.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, (requiring masks) was fine,” he told San José Spotlight. “But now everyone is vaccinated, boosted, the whole thing. It’s not the same anymore.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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