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As Experts Question Need for Masks in Bay Area, Many Remain Reluctant to Remove Them

DANVILLE (KPIX) -- California, and the Bay Area in particular, imposed some of the most restrictive COVID-19 mandates in the country and they seem to be paying off. The Golden State has the lowest rate of cases in the country and now some restrictions are being eased.

But how comfortable will people be giving up their masks? That's a question many people are asking themselves these days as wearing a face covering becomes more of a choice than a mandate.

The streets of Danville were bustling Sunday, as people turned out for Mother's Day brunch. Earlier that morning on CBS Face the Nation they got some food for thought from former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

"You look at San Francisco, 20 cases a day, more than 70 percent of the population vaccinated, very good testing in place. They don't need mask ordinances indoors anymore and certainly not outside," Dr. Gottlieb said.

The CDC has already approved removing masks when outdoors in small groups but now there are questions whether they are even necessary indoors, especially in San Francisco which may be on the verge of achieving "herd immunity."

"It means that, hopefully, we'll be the city that keeps on easing our restrictions," said Dr. Moncia Gandhi with the UCSF School of Medicine. "Even though we're opening up and there's more mingling, our cases are still staying low. That's what vaccination immunity to a pathogen does."

Just because things are improving not everyone is willing to shed the mask and breathe free again.

"I think I just want to continue to support the message that this is something that makes it safer, you know?" said Danville resident Don Kelsey.

"I never actually wore my mask for myself," said Steve Kinsella. "It was the bigger picture and I believed more in the science than the politics of it."

There was a range of opinion in the Garibaldi family. Dominic never liked masks and is happy they're now becoming a matter of choice.

"It feels way better now going in a restaurant and no one's looking at you, like, 'put the mask on!' like it's a crime or anything like that," he said. "Yeah, it feels really good not wearing a mask."

But his mother Silvia was more cautious. She began wearing a mask even before Covid hit. She'll wait a while before going out without one. "When things calm a little bit more," she said, "when I know that the virus is completely gone."

Oakland resident Brittney Lee already had a bout with COVID but she doesn't want the vaccine so she takes precautions to protect the elderly members of her family, even though they've already got their shots.

"For me ... because it is my choice to not get the vaccination ... I need to make sure that I wear a mask and wash my hands and try to protect others," she said.

So, how far has California come? In January, Los Angeles averaged 16,000 new cases a day. Last Wednesday they had 273, a drop of 98 percent.

Health officials talked the public into wearing masks. Now they have to convince them it's safe to take them off. For many, they've become a source of comfort a thin veil of protection against a world that can still feel pretty scary.

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