Activists Want Transit Masking to Continue

Senior and disability activists in front of SFMTA headquarters. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick
Senior and disability activists in front of SFMTA headquarters. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

Some 20 advocates with Senior and Disability Action (SDA) attended a rally in front of SFMTA headquarters Wednesday afternoon to demand an extension of rider mask mandates on Muni, BART, AC Transit, and other operators of buses and trains in the Bay Area. “They’re not taking people with disabilities and suppressed immune systems into account,” said Michael Lyon, 82, seen in the lead image in green. The retired bio-medical technician said case levels are just too high and there’s too much risk of long COVID, especially in seniors, for people to drop their masks in the confines of public transportation.

The mandate was to expire on Monday. But advocates gained a reprieve today, with federal regulators announcing that the mask mandate on transportation would continue through May 3. Major Bay Area transit agencies, including Muni, announced they would follow the federal mandates.

From SDA’s Facebook page:

… the federal mandate requiring masks on public transit will end, and masks will come off on Muni, BART, and AC Transit. Seniors, disabled people, frontline workers, Black and Latinx people and other high-risk communities have not been consulted about this policy change.

From SFMTA’s web page

Activists with the group said San Francisco has been a leader in masking and other precautions from the start of the COVID-19 crisis, allowing data to guide policies. The Bay Area has generally adopted more stringent precautions than federal mandates required. The result has been thousands of lives saved. They want San Francisco to continue to act with caution.

From a letter brought directly to SFMTA-head Jeffrey Tumlin’s office after the rally:

Recent research shows that close to 11 percent of the population are either too young to be vaccinated or did not mount a robust response to vaccines. This doesn’t include everyone who is at high risk for severe illness from COVID due to certain health conditions, which could be anything from having type 2 diabetes to having cancer. It doesn’t account for people over sixty, who may be at high risk of severe COVID, no matter what. It doesn’t account for the between 10 percent and 30 percent of people with COVID infections–including many fully vaccinated people with only mild COVID–who go on to develop long COVID, a condition that is often debilitating. And it doesn’t account for the race and class disparities of a disease that has disproportionately killed Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people.

Copies of the letter also went to heads of other transit agencies, including BART.

Streetsblog reached out to SFMTA for a response and will update this post. However, “We’ve actually been quite grateful that the federal government has set consistent rules for all of us,” SFMTA director Jeffrey Tumlin told the SFMTA board last month, as reported by the SFStandard. “We are in general agreement that we will simply follow what the health directors and federal government tell us to do.” BART and Caltrain’s web pages indicate they will also continue to follow federal mandates.

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But for the advocates, that’s not good enough: as several of them pointed out, asking people to continue masking on public transportation for a few more months while data on new variants is examined is not a big ask of the public. And it can make the difference between life and death for people who have compromised immune systems. “San Francisco should have a higher standard than the feds,” said Glen Fishman, one of the advocates at the rally. “There’s an uptick in cases here. I would want to know what’s going on locally.”

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