Disabled Californians call on Newsom to reinstate mask mandate on shelter-in-place anniversary

"Seeing those policies, seeing those COVID restrictions lifted, it's hurtful. It feels like my life is disposable."
SAN FRANCISCO -- A group of disabled Californians and seniors called on Governor Gavin Newsom to reinstate the indoor mask mandate on Wednesday to protect the most vulnerable populations. The coalition of high-risk Californians made the plea on the two year anniversary of the date Bay Area public health leaders announced the shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of coronavirus.

As some look forward to a "return to normal," 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," said one speaker on a Wednesday morning press call.

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Christine Mitchell, PhD, an Oakland-based public health researcher and advocate, is one of the high-risk Californians who urged Governor Newsom to reinstate the indoor mask mandate rolled back last month as elected leaders call for a "return to normal."

"Who gets to return to normal?" asked Mitchell. "Not me. Not other disabled or immunocompromised people or the people they live with."

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Mitchell is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to a life-long medical condition called Marfan Syndrome, which affects her heart and lungs.

"Seeing those policies, seeing those COVID restrictions lifted, it's hurtful. It feels like my life is disposable," she said.

Mitchell has been heavily isolated since March 2020. Her daily activities have followed the ebb and flow of COVID-19 positivity rates and COVID mitigation strategies like masking and vaccine requirements.

Mitchell recently wrote a blog sharing her concerns.

She fears she will have to return to online shopping as more and more people forego masks inside grocery stores. She also said she can't foresee herself eating inside a restaurant or dining al fresco with vaccine requirements being dropped for restaurants and other businesses in many Bay Area communities.

RELATED: Gov. Newsom dropping 95% of executive COVID-related orders in California

Like Mitchell, disability activist Charis Hill mainly stayed inside their apartment since the start of the pandemic.

Hill, who uses they/them pronouns, takes three immunosuppressive medications due to a rare disease called spondylitis.

They only leave their apartment for medical appointments, and they're now considering pushing back necessary surgeries scheduled for later this month once again.

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"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."

South Bay resident Sage Doshay was diagnosed with coronavirus in March 2020 and is now living with long-haul COVID.

She's concerned the reversal of COVID-19 mitigation strategies means disabled and chronically ill people like her, may never be able to enjoy things they love to do as the rest of the world returns to routines that resemble pre-pandemic norms.

For Doshay, that means missing out on dancing and traveling.

"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.

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With California's 14-day average COVID hospitalizations just below 3,000, ABC7 News Special Correspondent Alok Patel, M.D., urges us all to remain vigilant.

"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.

RELATED: Santa Clara Co. joins rest of Bay Area in dropping indoor mask mandate; boosters not required

Doctor Patel also encouraged high-risk Californians to have discussions with family and friends to set boundaries as fewer COVID mitigation strategies remain in place.

"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.

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