Californians with disabilities and seniors called on Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday to reinstate the indoor mask mandate so as to protect the most vulnerable.
The fraction of Californians at high risk made the plea at the anniversary of the announcement that the Bay Area would institute a shelter-in-place order to put a lasting stop to the spread of Coronavirus two years ago.
The return to normal may appeal to some, but many disabled people feel left out and in danger.
“We’re here today because this is a really scary moment in the pandemic for many disabled and high-risk Californians,” a speaker said at a Wednesday morning press conference.
Dr. Christine Mitchell, an Oakland-based public health researcher and advocate, is one of the high-risk Californians who has called for the reinstatement of the indoor mask mandate that was rolled back last month in response to calls for a return to normalcy by elected officials.
“Who gets to return to normal?” asked Mitchell. “Not me. Not other disabled or immunocompromised people or the people they live with.”
Despite a lifelong medical condition that affects her heart and lungs, Mitchell is at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
“Seeing those policies, seeing those COVID restrictions lifted, it’s hurtful. It feels like my life is disposable,” she said.
Since March 2020, Mitchell has been heavily isolated. In her daily activities, she has closely followed changes in COVID-19 positivity rates and strategies to mitigate COVID, such as masking and vaccine requirements.
Mitchell recently wrote a blog post about COVID and her concerns.
As more people refuse to wear masks inside grocery stores, she fears she will have to go back to online shopping. As vaccine requirements for restaurants and other businesses are being dropped in many Bay Area communities, she said she cannot imagine eating inside a restaurant or dining al fresco.
Disability activist Charis Hill, like Mitchell, has mostly been confined to their apartment since the pandemic began.
In order to treat a rare disease known as spondylitis, Hill takes three immunosuppressive medications.
Their only time away from home is for medical appointments, and they are considering putting off necessary surgeries that were scheduled for later this month once again.
“The removal of mask mandates means my health care providers are more likely to take risks outside of work,” they said.
“That impacts me because in the operating room they may have COVID and may be asymptomatic, but I’m high-risk, I’m lying there unconscious in my most vulnerable state.”
Sage Doshay has lived with long-term COVID after being diagnosed with Coronavirus in March 2020.
She’s worried that reversing mitigation strategies for COVID-19 may mean disabled and chronically ill people will never be able to enjoy what they love by returning to routines that resemble pre-pandemic norms.
This means that Doshay can’t engage in dance or travel.
“That makes me want to scream. All the time (I want to) just go outside and scream. But I can’t do that, because it would be too tiring,” said Doshay.
ABC7 News Special Correspondent Alok Patel, M.D., said California’s COVID hospitalizations are just below 3,000 on a 14-day average.
“I don’t think the message about taking care of yourself should not only fall upon those who have chronic medical illnesses, or those who have weakened immune systems. It’s on all of us to protect our community. You could be getting somebody else sick who might have an underlying medical issue. Or you might get someone sick who’s going to go home and pass it on to somebody else who is also high-risk,” said Patel.
As fewer COVID mitigation strategies remain in place, Dr. Patel also encouraged high-risk Californians to discuss setting boundaries with their family and friends.
“I would encourage anyone out there who has an underlying medical condition, who has concerns about what life is going to be like in April or May to have an open conversation now, with your friends, your family, people around you. So they know your level of comfort when it comes to going out into the world, visiting friends, having people coming over, so you can create your tribe,” said Patel.