Mask mandate lifted for most vaccinated Californians, USC students weigh in

The mask mandate will remain in effect for Los Angeles County.

Two students wearing masks at the involvement fair.

California’s mask mandate will be lifted for all vaccinated individuals in indoor public spaces starting Feb. 15, public officials announced Monday. This change was announced after the state cited a 65% drop in Covid-19 cases following the peak of the Omicron surge and nearly two years of the mask mandate existing in California. All unvaccinated individuals will still be required to wear masks while indoors.

Although details have yet to be released, California officials shared that this policy change is going to impact masking in schools and are working on updating the rules accordingly.

“The state is continuing to work with education, public health and community leaders to update masking requirements at schools to adapt to changing conditions and ensure the safety of kids, teachers, and staff,” the California Department of Public Health said Monday in a press release.

Despite policy changes across California, not every county will be lifting mask mandates. This mandate will apply to counties who do not have their own mask mandates. Counties are still able to maintain their local mandates. Los Angeles County health officials declared the county will keep the mask mandate in place beyond the state deadline. Many counties across the Bay Area will also keep their mask mandates in place.

Chief Health Officer for USC Student Health Sarah Van Orman said in a briefing on Tuesday afternoon that USC is watching the situation closely, but has yet to release any updated guidance. “We are likely to align with the county, but let’s not be more restrictive.” Van Orman said.

There is some pushback in Los Angeles County, particularly from county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, to loosen mask mandates in outdoor settings. Barger hopes to apply enough pressure on health officials to have them remove mandates for outdoor mega-events before the Super Bowl this Sunday.

“[Lifting the mask mandate] still makes me kind of uncomfortable, especially on a college campus with so many people,” sophomore sociology major Bri Escobar said. “There’s still sporting events going on, even though we get tested at least once a week – if you’re vaccinated – I still feel safe with the mask.”

Escobar isn’t the only student opposing the state’s decision, but some students believe that fear of the pandemic is dwindling.

“I think it’s kind of stupid to lift it right now, but I guess a lot of people are giving up,” sophomore cinema and media studies student David Power said. “A lot of people I talked to just don’t really care anymore.”

Though most USC students have received their shots and boosters, many said they still fear the possibility of breakthrough infections.

Marcus Yao, a neuroscience major, shared this concern: “I don’t know how to feel about this. I think it’s extremely dangerous just because…it’s been shown that vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective.”

Kaitlin Majkowski, a senior political science major, said she worries about Covid accommodations within classrooms if mandates are lifted on campus.

“There’s so much people around here…a lot of the classrooms are really small – really too small for the amount of people in each class, and they should keep the mask mandate.”

Some USC students said they are relieved at the state’s decision.

Micah See, sophomore electrical engineering student said “I’m a strong believer in the science of masks, but I think right now we’ve reached a point where because of the efficiency of vaccines and booster shots, and the reduced rate and outlook on Omicron.”

“Our biggest priority right now should be to try to return to normalcy as quickly as possible and to try to allow normal things to resume,” See said, “I think right now the restrictions are doing a lot of damage, especially within educational institutions, by sidetracking students’ progress.”

Similarly, graduate marketing student Hailey Harward said, “I’m not the biggest fan of wearing masks 24-7, but again, it’s a toss up of keeping people safe vs. comfort, so as long as people stay safe and we can all not wear masks all the time. I mean, that’s ideal.”

Harward added, “I think that hopefully means we’re moving in the right direction. If the people making those decisions deem it safe to not have the mask mandate anymore, I think that makes me feel happy.”

Looking to the future of Covid-19 protocols at USC, many students simply want to be cognizant of each other’s health and safety, and continue with an in-person spring semester.

“I think everybody should do their job to protect themselves and most importantly, protect others and the ones that we love,” said second-year graduate student Boris Liu. “It is really important for us to, like, wear the mask until this pandemic is over.”