UPDATED: How SF Is Handling Masking as Delta Variant Circulates

An Alcatraz employee is seated on a ferry to the island with a sign instructing COVID-19 protocol in the foreground.

Yesica Prado/San Francisco Public Press

Alcatraz employees catch the first ferry of the day from Pier 33 in San Francisco. Onboard, everyone wears masks. Posters and floor stickers throughout the boat instruct passengers on COVID-19 guidelines. On June 15, California lifted mask mandates for most venues and allowed many businesses to set their own guidelines. But federal institutions, including national parks, continue to follow federal mandates.

Update 7/16/21: A few days after this episode of “Civic” aired, Bay Area health officials made a joint recommendation that everyone wear masks in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status, a change from the masking protocols outlined by the health officer in this interview. The officials cited an increase in COVID-19 cases and increased circulation of the delta variant. A press release from the San Francisco Department of Public Health indicated that the recommended approach also serves to ensure easy verification that unvaccinated people wear masks in indoor settings, and as an extra precautionary measure for everyone.

The highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is now the dominant strain in the nation and has arrived in the Bay Area. Case numbers are surging in parts of the country with low vaccination rates, and, while San Francisco’s case numbers are slightly on the rise, most residents are vaccinated. Eighty-three percent of eligible people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 76% are fully vaccinated. But people under age 12 are not eligible yet, raising the question of what safety precautions to take when schools fully reopen. San Francisco will require all students to wear masks indoors, but not outdoors, while at school. Meanwhile, federal and state guidelines on school safety differ. Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco’s Health Officer, talked with “Civic” about the details of the current mask rules, the delta variant and the importance of vaccines.

“The goal is really to improve the seal around your face and to make sure that you’ve got multiple layers of cloth. But having said that, that is the recommendation of course for unvaccinated people who need that level of protection. And even with that I think what we’re seeing with the delta variant worldwide, and here in California, is that there is no substitute for being vaccinated. And masking is something that we want people to do if they haven’t yet gotten the vaccine. But what we really want people to do is to get vaccinated, for their protection and for the protection of their community.”

— Susan Philip

A segment from our radio show and podcast, “Civic.” Listen daily at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on 102.5 FM in San Francisco, and subscribe on Apple, Google, Spotify or Stitcher