In-Depth: What to do about face masks over the holidays

As CDC updates guidance, local doctors weigh in
Posted at 5:57 AM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 10:04:50-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - As San Diegans get ready for the holiday season, many wonder if they still need to wear a mask when they shop or gather with friends and family.

"Masks are a layer of protection added on top of a vaccine," says Dr. William Tseng with the San Diego County Medical Society.

In August, the SDCMS sent a letter to county health officials asking for stricter mask guidelines as the Delta variant spread.

Even though the county didn't add any restrictions, Dr. Tseng says it's vital that people keep wearing their masks in many public settings.

"The whole idea of masks is to protect those around you and those you love," he says. "You don't want to be part of the vector. You want to be part of the solution."

In late October, the CDC updated its mask guidance, saying you generally do not need to wear a mask at all outdoors. But they advise anyone in an area with a "High" number of COVID cases to wear a mask in outdoor crowds and any other outdoor activities that bring you into close contact with unvaccinated people.

Indoors, the CDC guidance says unvaccinated people should wear a mask in any public place. The CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public for fully vaccinated people if you're in an area of "Substantial" or "High" transmission.

Right now, the CDC says San Diego's transmission rate is "Substantial."

"Some people do it all the time, and some people don't," says Dr. Holly Yang, who is the SDCMS' Immediate Past President. "Anytime that air comes in and out of your face, it needs to be covered."

Meanwhile, San Diego doctors tell ABC 10News the holiday season serves as a friendly reminder to make sure the masks we've all been wearing for months are still effective.

"If it's see-through, has a hole, is sort of loose-fitting now because things have gotten stretched out, chuck it," says Dr. Yang.

The CDC guidance says the "mask basics" we've been living by for the last two years still apply. Make sure masks have two layers. Make sure they fit properly. Cover your nose and mouth. And make sure the masks are made from a washable, breathable fabric.

As for family gatherings, Dr. Tseng and Dr. Yang agree that situational awareness will play a significant role in wearing a mask.

"If all the family members are vaccinated, then the risk is much lower," Dr. Tseng says. "Whereas, if you have strangers come over, you don't know who's sick, who's coughing? Yeah, I would wear a mask if that's the situation."

"It's important to think about ventilation," adds Dr. Yang. "It's important to understand if people are vaccinated or not. Make it as safe as possible."