Masks no longer required indoors for vaccinated people beginning Wednesday
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Masks can come off today for vaccinated Californians. In many indoor spaces, signs of easing restrictions are popping up everywhere. Disneyland announced it's dropping its indoor masking mandate tomorrow. The music festival Coachella also announced it will be removing its COVID restrictions. This spring and nationwide COVID cases are down 43% from a week ago. But the delay in authorization for young children's vaccinations is a reminder that life is not yet back to normal here to talk with us about those topics and more is Dr. Eric Topel director of the scripts research translational Institute in LA Jolla. And Dr. Topel welcome back to the program.
Speaker 2: (00:43)
Thanks Maureen. Good to be with you again
Speaker 1: (00:45)
Now, today, the mask mandate is lifted in California for vaccinated people. The CDC says it's too soon. What do you think?
Speaker 2: (00:54)
Well, I'd have to agree with the CDC on this one. Uh, the problem is we went to this back in may, as you recall, when we said, uh, mask could be, uh, beared and not necessary and people who were vaccinated and there's no honor system, uh, about people, uh, using mask and our case load is still high in this wave. I think it'd be better to sit tight for a couple weeks at least and see that circulating level of virus get down even and lower before we loosen everything up. I think the idea of having a date picked as the governor did of this date, rather than going through metrics, the latter is a much preferable approach.
Speaker 1: (01:34)
Now, tomorrow the governor is set to unveil his plan for moving the state into the endemic phase of COVID 19. Can you with explain what transitioning to an endemic phase could mean for California?
Speaker 2: (01:47)
Well, I've reviewed that plan. It's called the smarter plan with each of those letters of smarter standing for something like shots S and, and mask. But this plan is a preparedness, uh, plan because endemic doesn't mean N it means that we hoped to get to a low level of virus that is achieve containment. Uh, and we expect that there will be more problems in the months ahead. And my critique of that plan, that's gonna be unveiled tomorrow. It's good, but it could be even more bold and more comprehensive. We are not doing well, uh, in my view for vaccination boosters in California. And, uh, also we're not using the tools like, uh, digital surveillance through smart watches. And I'd like to see a more bold plan that incorporates these issues, as well as, uh, trying to get a lot more of our people in the vaccinated, uh, group.
Speaker 1: (02:41)
Now state health officials say it's not time yet to check range masking rules for schools. They will reassess that at the end of the month. What types of metrics would you wanna see before removing the mask requirement in schools?
Speaker 2: (02:53)
Well, similar to the overall, uh, policy, if we can get the circulating virus at very low levels, as we see by test positivity and, uh, the numbers of cases, then I think we are in great shape for, for everything that we're doing across the board, including schools, but it's still high. You know, there's this kind of premature jump to where we hope to be in the next couple well weeks. And since this has been going on for well over two years, and everyone is so sick of this, what's a couple more weeks just to be safe.
Speaker 1: (03:27)
Now, with numbers going down across the country, are you confident that the oon surge is on its way out?
Speaker 2: (03:35)
Well, sure looks that way. This has been the most rapid descent in, in cases and hospitalizations that we've ever seen from the beginning of the pandemic. So it's very encouraging. I, I should say Maureen, we still don't really know the mechanism, how the, how we get this phenomenally rapid decent descent, uh, because of the asset that was this hyper transmission that it was seen in many countries throughout the world. So there's still some mysteries about this strain of the virus. Nonetheless, you know, we are not containing the virus globally no less, uh, in this country. So we face the evolution of another version of the virus in the months ahead. We may well have a nice quiet time for a stretch, hopefully a long stretch, but because we have still half of the population of the world to get protected, uh, and, um, we don't have good containment. We face, uh, further troubles, unfortunately, uh, in the times ahead,
Speaker 1: (04:32)
Another often overlooked protection against COVID is one that you've been writing about. And that's natural immunity as the result of a past COVID in F now you say the us has not recognized the value of infection induced natural immunity. Tell us about that.
Speaker 2: (04:48)
No one wants anyone to get COVID intentionally, that would be reckless, but for those people, who've had it confirmed. They do have some immunity and the really best way to get rid of, of this divisiveness that we've had, uh, because a natural immunity can't rightfully says, Hey, we have some immunity from our infection is to make sure, and we're gonna see a lot more data from that today that they get one shot. Now, the real one shot and one, and done story, because that one shot gets them to the level of three shots. That is two shots in a booster. So we could just get the people who had prior, uh, infections with a single dose of a vaccine. We can get so much better protection for them and for everyone.
Speaker 1: (05:34)
Now last week, the food and drug administration announced a delay in the authorization for Pfizer ion techs. COVID 19 vaccine for children under five. How long a delay do you expect?
Speaker 2: (05:45)
Well, it's probably gonna be at least a couple of months. And the reason being is that unfortunately when Pfizer went ahead with this trial in less than age five, they used a dose. They wanted to go for safety and it proved to be very safe, but not that effective in bringing up a, a, a strong immune response against infection. So I think it's the right choice. Uh, in the meantime, you know, we do know that having everyone else in the household, parents, uh, older children, teens getting them vaccinated has much protection that it provides for the younger children.
Speaker 1: (06:20)
I wanna circle back on something that you've been bringing up. You know, we are looking at another spring with great hopes of getting back to normal. We know what happened to that hope last year. What do you think we should be prepared for? Do you think this virus will take another turn?
Speaker 2: (06:36)
I think it's pretty likely, uh, but obviously we all hope it won't. Uh, but because we have just so many people in whom the virus can evolve within that is the immunocompromised. Uh, and because there's just so many people out there that are still unprotected throughout the world, uh, we we've face more evolution of the virus. And potentially we've been very lucky so far that our vaccines might not hold up nearly as well, certainly against severe disease that causes hospitalizations and deaths. On the other hand, if we can get these pills at scale production and everybody had access to them quickly in new E B when they had a positive test, which can abort the, uh, the infection and, and drop the viral load dramatically and quickly, basically we could get to a point where even a new variant wouldn't be a significant threat. So I'm actually quite optimistic if we get our drug story straight, particularly on the pill side, uh, and that we are able to eventually have a variant proof vaccine. So we don't have to rely anymore on boosters that were directed to the original strain. So I think the tools are getting assembled now that we will get back to a very positive comfort zone, uh, not just for the next few months, but durably, uh, but we will have to coronavirus out there for years to come. That's why we need strategies like, uh, better drugs, uh, wide scale availability of those drugs and a better vaccine that will get really, uh, uh, ovarian proof, uh, story for years to come.
Speaker 1: (08:22)
I've been speaking with Dr. Eric Topel director of the Scripps research translational Institute in LA Jolla. Dr. Topel. Thank you very much. Thank you.
The decision from the state Health & Human Services Agency leaves untouched mask requirements for other settings, including health care facilities and all public transit.
Masks on, masks off. It’s become a familiar back and forth since Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the first mask mandate back in June of 2020.
This most recent mask mandate was put in place two months ago as omicron surged. Then on Monday, the Secretary of California’s Health and Human Services Agency made this announcement: “To allow the guidance for public indoor settings for vaccinated individuals to move from a requirement to a strong recommendation."
Masks are still required for everyone in a number of public settings, including indoor places for unvaccinated people. They're still required for everyone in all transit facilities, also health care facilities, schools and child care, long-term care settings and in jails and prisons.
But even that one change from required to recommended is too much for one local infectious diseases specialist.
“As somebody that’s been really on the front lines and still seeing many people with COVID, I feel like it’s just a little bit premature," said Dr. Christian Ramers, an infectious disease specialist with Family Health Centers of San Diego.
Masks will continue to be required in K-12 schools, though the San Diego Unified School District said Tuesday that masks will be optional beginning Wednesday for students and staff for outdoor activities including field trips.
Dr. Ghaly said the state will reassess requirements for schools at the end of this month.
That, said San Diego attorney Kiana Caton with the firm Meyers Nave, could lead to litigation from parents who want the mask requirements to stay in place.
“There are going to be parents who are not happy about having their children exposed to other students, in particular, students who may have special medical needs," she said.
But the unmasking trend, for now at least, seems unstoppable. Disneyland announced it's dropping mask mandates beginning Thursday, and the giant Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
said not only will masks not be required this year, people won’t have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result either.
Dr. Ramers told KPBS that he understands the human impulse to get back to something like normal. But whether it’s a new variant or a new disease, he said we should be prepared for the next big health challenge.
“This is going to happen again, I can say with great certainty that it will. It’s just a matter of when," said Ramers.
But for now at least, you can practically hear the sighs of relief, supported by data showing us moving quickly in the right direction after two-plus years of riding the COVID roller coaster.