Senior & Disability Action in Partnership with the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network Pushes for SF Healthcare Worker Mask Mandate Continuation

Author Details

Sarah Mizes-Tan

Communications Director

San Francisco – Senior and Disability Action in partnership with the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) is demanding the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) keep in place its mask mandate for workers in healthcare settings which is set to expire on April 30, 2024. On Tuesday, April 16, 12:30-2:30pm outside of SFDPH (101 Grove St.), Senior and Disability Action members and partners such as Disability Visibility Project, Raging Grannies, and Marked by Covid will rally to demand that SFDPH keep and strengthen the healthcare mask requirement.

Health Order 2023-01b currently requires that all staff in San Francisco healthcare settings wear masks while interfacing with patients or clients. If this order is allowed to expire, healthcare workers would not be required to mask, even around people who are immuno-compromised, people with disabilities and other vulnerable communities, placing them at unnecessary risk for contracting COVID-19. 

“The Department of Public Health has a duty to protect the public health of our community,” said Amelia Tehrani, a member of Senior and Disability Action’s Masks for Equity group. “We know that high quality, well-fitting N95’s are the most effective way to protect our essential workers and our community members. Everyone is at risk of Long COVID and post-COVID damage, not just the disabled and/or immunocompromised. Long COVID encompasses a wide range of possible symptoms (200+) and conditions. We should not be getting sicker while trying to access healthcare.”

The April 16 rally will amplify the message in a written statement from Senior and Disability Action members to Dr. Susan Philip, SFDPH Health Officer, calling on her to maintain the current Health Order and improve it through measures such as universal mask requirements in healthcare and jail settings, as well as requiring and providing high-quality masks. The statement has been signed by over 230 individuals and nearly 40 organizations, including the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the Anti Police-Terror Project, and the Chinese Progressive Organization. You can read the statement and see the full list of signers here.

No longer requiring healthcare workers to mask will also put Black and Latinx communities at risk, as research has shown that these two groups are more likely to contract COVID and also more likely to suffer from Long COVID than white people. 

“CPEHN is disappointed at the San Francisco Department of Public Health in removing mask requirements in health care and jail facilities,” Weiyu Zhang, Policy Director at CPEHN said. “Research has continually shown that Black communities and other communities of color are more likely to suffer long-term effects from COVID and are also more likely to experience more severe COVID infections. We believe the removal of a mask mandate will further perpetuate systemic racism and ableism in our medical and public health systems.”

According to data from the California Department of Public Health, Black, Latinx and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities unequally bore the disease burden of COVID-19, including cases and deaths, compared to White people. In addition, Black, Latinx and American Indian/Alaskan Native Californians have the lowest up-to-date COVID-19 vaccination rates compared to White Californians. 

“When public health departments remove population-wide strategies such as masking that have proven effective in reducing COVID-19 transmissions, especially in high risk facilities such as hospitals, they will disproportionately harm communities of color and people living with disabilities in California,” Zhang said. 

San Francisco Senior and Disability Action mobilizes and educates seniors and people with disabilities to fight for individual rights and social justice. Through individual support and collective action, we work together to create a city and world in which seniors and people with disabilities can live well and safely.

CPEHN is a health policy advocacy organization working to improve health care access and eliminate health status disparities in California’s communities of color. The mission of CPEHN is to promote changes to health policy decision-making and health care delivery systems that improve the health status of our diverse communities.