While the COVID-19 pandemic has felt like an eternity, the era of masks and social distancing may soon come to an end in certain states.
Seeing recent increases in vaccinations and a sharp decrease in positive COVID-19 cases, California plans to lift indoor mask requirements in some public settings by Mar. 12. However, this is not the first time Americans have impulsively loosened restrictions in response to sudden declines in positive cases.
Although lifted restrictions are welcome news, previous failures to maintain low cases should serve as warnings; though the finish line may be approaching, there is no need to disregard all caution and set back all the advancements that have been made.
Recall that the first attempt to return to normalcy, at least for students, began with a return to in-person classes. During that three-month period of return, there were extreme spikes in positive tests, especially regarding the newer, more contagious Delta and Omicron variants.
While daily cases remained at an all-time low toward the end of 2021, the new variants caused daily cases to spike in January, reaching heights of over 200,000 positive tests per day. Rather than halls filled with students eager for a resolute return to in-person learning, many saw near-empty classrooms due to absences surrounding COVID-19 test results.
In response, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has introduced the SMARTER initiative– an abbreviation for shots, masks, awareness, readiness, testing, education and Rx, or treatment, which hopes to move the state into an endemic phase with increased emphasis on implementing effective preventative measures against COVID-19. The program’s entirety embodies the idea that, while the pandemic may be receding into the background, Californians must continue to stay cautious to maintain low case numbers.
The SMARTER plan hopes to combat future outbreaks by keeping up with current vaccination and testing practices. Newer practices, such as creating state stockpiles of ventilators and testing kits as well as increased wastewater monitoring for the virus remnants, have also been implemented.
However, while both the SMARTER plan and recent government actions have implied masks will no longer be required, Californians should still be encouraged to wear masks while COVID-19 precautions fade out.
Masks have already proven to be an effective measure against COVID-19 and even the common cold. Since the beginning of the pandemic, mask mandates have shrunk COVID-19 case rates by about two points over five days.
Thus, while case numbers and hospitalization rates may be diminishing, COVID-19 is still a very present danger in day-to-day life and should be treated as such. Safety precautions should still be taken into account and the health conscious behavior of the pandemic should not be thrown aside.