California’s indoor mask mandate is expiring on February 15 for vaccinated residents. Face coverings will still be required for unvaccinated people and those in LA (because the county set its own rules).
California is averaging nearly 30,000 new COVID cases a day — a 70% decrease compared to two weeks ago. COVID deaths are going up though, even as hospitalizations stabilize.
The move is premature, says Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious diseases physician at Stanford. That’s because it’s still unclear how COVID will spread once the mask mandate is lifted.
“If you have a lot of infections in the community and you pull back on mitigation measures, what's the chance that you now start to have exponential spread again?” Karan tells KCRW. “I think that if we wait a few weeks longer, our test positivity percentage will come down even more because we see it is heading in that direction.”
Once the mandate is lifted, Karan predicts mask enforcement for unvaccinated people won’t happen. He still recommends wearing N95 and KN95 masks because COVID is transmitted via aerosols.
“Those high-filtration masks will be important now. They'll be important for the next variant that comes up. It’s inevitable. You'd be hard-pressed to find any expert saying that we will not have any more variants. Omicron will not be the last variant. And so those masks, I would say keep [them] handy,” Karan explains.
Booster efficacy and long-term COVID effects
Karan says there is evidence that people who’ve gotten three COVID vaccine shots have lower chances of getting infected and developing severe disease. He adds that people who have been infected do retain immunity.
As more people catch COVID, Karan points out that just getting infected is a problem, and researchers are only starting to scratch the surface on how COVID impacts the body over time.
“For patients that have had COVID, even mild cases, they have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease across the spectrum,” Karan explains. “We're still learning about a lot of the long-term effects. It's only been a couple of years. We're relatively speaking in the very early stages of the pandemic and the early stages of COVID as a disease. And so what will this mean if we let a lot of people get infected, including kids? It's really hard to say.”