Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan leads a rally with other city leaders on May 17, 2022, prior to the City Council's unanimous vote to make Oakland a sanctuary for women seeking abortions. (Photo by Keith Burbank/Bay City News)

Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan and some community members want to restore the requirement to wear a facial covering inside city facilities, which would provide equitable access to all and protect the public’s health, Kaplan’s office said Tuesday.

Restoring the requirements, Kaplan and community members say, will protect the health of the community while the flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus is spreading and placing stress on the health care system.

Masking also ensures access to spaces for those who are especially at risk when others don’t wear a mask.

Kaplan also wants city officials to make masks available to people entering city facilities. Kaplan is asking the Oakland City Council to consider on Dec. 20 a resolution to reinstate the masking requirement.

“I am on immunosuppressive treatments and my doctors have told me that my entire family needs to avoid indoor spaces when masks are not required because the health risks are too high,” said Beth Kenny, member of the advocacy group Senior and Disability Action.

“People should not have to go against medical advice to access their city government or get a book out of the library.”

Members of Senior and Disability Action went caroling on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to advocate for themselves and Kaplan’s proposed resolution.

“Mayor Schaaf, don’t be a grinch! Bring back mask requirements in libraries and other public buildings,” a Facebook page for the event said.

Schaaf last month revoked the requirement by executive order. Kaplan’s resolution would ask city officials to provide KN-95, N-95 or KF-94 masks to people who want to enter public facilities.

Masks provide equitable access to public services, according to Kaplan’s office. Without a mask requirement, it will be dangerous for people like Kenny who are immunocompromised to enter public facilities in Oakland.

The danger extends to others who cannot get vaccinated, have a disability or a pre-existing condition, according to Kaplan’s office.

“Wearing quality masks helps protect both ourselves and one another from the dangerous spread of respiratory diseases — and helps keep spaces accessible while protecting the long term health of the public,” Kaplan said in a statement. “With the growing dangers of long term harms from disease exposure and the importance of having public facilities be accessible for our communities, it is important to have masks.”

Flu, COVID and RSV infection rates are expected to rise in the months ahead, according to Kaplan’s office.

Countywide in Alameda County, health officials announced last week that masking would again be required at homeless shelters, emergency shelters and heating and cooling centers because of the rising number of hospital beds needed to treat COVID patients.

The Dec. 20 City Council meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. and can be viewed on Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82432316883.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.