Mask wearing outdoors still evokes range of emotions, even with looser guidelines

At the fountain in Balboa Park Saturday, a group of girls snapped Instagrammable photos of one another, while a family with two young children took a break from riding their scooters to snack on juice boxes and sandwiches.

Meanwhile at Mission Beach, crowds of people breezed down the boardwalk on bikes and rollerblades, while groups took in the sun on their beach blankets or at the bars lining the sand.

It was a fairly typical spring Saturday throughout San Diego in many ways except one: unlike recent months, there were far fewer masks.

This weekend marks the first following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on mask wearing for vaccinated people in outdoor spaces. Per the new recommendations announced Tuesday, fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks outdoors unless they are in crowded settings or venues — such as a large sporting event or concert.

Even with the new guidance, some people continued to don masks outdoors, remaining uneasy when maskless people got too close. Other park and beach goers gladly shed their masks while walking around outside Saturday, joining in what many said feels like a big step back toward normalcy.

As Louisiana resident John Paul walked around Mission Beach Saturday afternoon, the boardwalk felt notably different than during his last trip to San Diego in the fall.

“When I was here in November, it was like being in a ghost town compared to now,” Paul said.

Saturday’s warm weather brought crowds to the boardwalk in Mission Beach — both with and without masks.

Saturday’s warm weather brought crowds to the boardwalk in Mission Beach — both with and without masks.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

He is visiting family in San Diego for a month ahead of a permanent move in August to transfer to San Diego City College or Miramar College. Between receiving his COVID-19 vaccine and the positive trends the county has seen with decreased cases, this trip has been more comfortable.

“Being fully vaccinated, I feel more confident,” Paul said on the boardwalk. “I feel confident in the vaccine and trust everyone is doing a good job.”

In Balboa Park, Liza Pantiukhova and Igor Fedorovskiy were visiting from Manhattan after receiving both doses of the Moderna vaccine. Walking around San Diego, they both said it felt easier to social distance since the sidewalks are much less crowded than in New York City.

“In Manhattan, you can have triple, 10-fold of this amount of people in one block,” Pantiukhova said.

Fedorovskiy said he makes sure to wear a mask in stores or crowded areas, but he feels like “it’s always situational, and I think that’s what’s important for people to remember right now — really judge it based on the situation you’re in and always keep a mask on you, just in case.”

Serra Mesa resident Erin Sanson was enjoying the park as respite from the work-from-home life that has dominated the past year. Armed with one dose of the vaccine, she is slowly trying to re-assimilate into society, but it’s been tricky since she wants to continue keeping herself and others safe.

“I think there is that initial anxiety because you don’t know who has been vaccinated,” she said, “and you don’t know who is kind of just blending in, not necessarily pretending to be vaccinated, but definitely just taking advantage of the looser guidelines.”

Some people admitted to forgoing masks despite not being fully vaccinated.

John Paul from Louisiana enjoyed a trip to boardwalk in Mission Beach during his vacation stay.

John Paul from Louisiana enjoyed a trip to boardwalk in Mission Beach during his vacation stay. Paul says because his been vaccinated he feels comfortable not wearing a facial mask in public, per the CDC’s new guidelines.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

While walking through the Alcazar Garden with their 9-month old son, Chula Vista residents Jeanette Esparza and Carlos Matthews said they’re both hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. They generally only wear their masks when they go to indoor public places, but outside they instead avoid interacting with people.

“I think people are getting over the idea of the whole COVID thing — we’re not getting close to anyone,” Esparza said.

Some people remained much more cautious and have continued wearing masks outdoors since the region has not yet reached herd immunity.

JoAnne Kort, a nurse practitioner from El Centro, has been vaccinated since January. After seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic devastated her community, she was wearing a surgical mask while hanging out on the boardwalk.

“I’ve just been trying to keep my distance,” Kort said. “I don’t mind going out now, but before I was vaccinated, I wasn’t going out socially at all.

A group of junior Girl Scouts — accompanied by their moms and troop leader — wore masks while they competed in a socially distant treasure hunt in the park during their second in-person meeting over the past year. Children under 16 are not yet eligible for any of the vaccines being distributed in America.

Mady Lucey, 10, has been a Girl Scout for five years and considers her fellow troop members to be more like sisters than her best friends. The majority of their troop meetings were held online, and she said she missed being in the same room with them.

“I felt sad, and I am glad that I’m outdoors with them instead of on a screen,” Mady said.

Anthony Avilla Martin along with his wife, Marielena Gamino, and their daughter at Balboa Park

Anthony Avilla Martin along with his wife, Marielena Gamino, and their daughter, Violet Avilla, 4, felt comfortable visiting Balboa Park without generally wearing masks. Martin says he and his wife both contracted the coronavirus last year and both have since recovered and feeling well.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A pair of multimedia storytellers had a work picnic set up near the Old Globe Theater to take advantage the nice weekend weather while sitting far away from other people to temporarily forgo their masks. Mira Mesa resident Lillygol Sedaghat and Clairmont resident Cory Howell — co-founders of Suan Tian Stories — have been meeting up in Balboa Park ever since San Diego re-entered the purple tier last fall.

Between the new CDC guidance and San Diego County being in the state’s second-least restrictive tier for safety protocols, Howell has observed a change in the way people interact in public. What’s helped to keep him comfortable is being aware and maintaining a safe distance.

“People’s behavior has changed and generally people are being a little less cautious, but I still feel like people are in the habit of generally being pretty cognizant of their spacing,” Howell said.

Both Sedaghat and Howell have had one dose of the vaccine and will receive their second shot May 16. Instead of being in crowded public spaces, they’ve been working outdoors together, using wooden crates as desks and connecting to the park’s free Wi-Fi in lieu of meeting at coffee shops.

“I think for a lot of us, it’s kind of dancing with people, it’s what you do to keep yourself safe, your family safe and the people around you safe,” Sedaghat said. “We kind of create these spaces to be able to ensure a safe distance between us and other people.”

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