A sign notifying the public that masks are required indoors. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

If you’re planning to enter a library, senior center, recreation center, or other government building in Oakland, you’ll need to put on a face mask again.

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday reinstated a mask mandate for city buildings in response to a surge in COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses that health officials have called a “tripledemic.” The mandate goes into effect immediately and will remain in place until March 31, 2023.

The city’s previous mask mandate was rescinded on Nov. 28 by Mayor Libby Schaaf. Some city workers, including librarians, objected to the end of the mandate, as did advocates with the group Senior and Disability Action, who protested the decision last week.

Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan and District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb wrote the legislation reintroducing the mask mandate. In a report to their council colleagues, they noted that hospital emergency room visits by children ages 4 and younger are at their highest level in the three years since the pandemic started. Many of these kids are suffering from RSV, a respiratory virus that can lead to serious conditions. Kaplan and Kalb also pointed out that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention increased Alameda County’s risk level for COVID-19 transmission on December 8 from “Low” to “Medium.” 

Wearing a mask can help prevent viruses from spreading, according to doctors and epidemiologists who have studied the use of masks. And while most Oakland residents have taken the COVID vaccine to lower the risk of serious complications, there is currently no vaccine for RSV. The most effective types of masks are fitted N95s and KN95s, with surgical masks providing somewhat less protection, followed by cloth masks.

The new mask mandate requires the city to provide masks to anyone who enters a city building. 

The mandate also does not include the Paramount Theatre, the Fox Theater, the Oakland Convention Center, the Oakland Zoo, the Oakland Museum of California, or Children’s Fairyland. None of these entertainment facilities are operated directly by the city government. 

“We’re gonna protect our workers, our city employees, and our people who visit our city buildings [to] make sure that we’re going to minimize the risk,” Kalb said on the City Council call yesterday. 

Kaplan thanked the disability protesters during the meeting for continuing to keep city staff aware of their concerns around unmasking.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.

Jose Fermoso covers road safety, transportation, and public health for The Oaklandside. His previous work covering tech and culture has appeared in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, and One Zero. Jose was born and raised in Oakland and is the host and creator of the El Progreso podcast, a new show featuring in-depth narrative stories and interviews about and from the perspective of the Latinx community.