Health

California won’t lift its mask requirement for another month

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California won’t lift its mask requirement until June 15 to give the public and businesses time to prepare and ensure cases stay low, state Health Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said Monday.

Many other states lifted their mask requirements last week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to skip face coverings and social distancing in most situations.

“On June 15 California plans to implement CDC’s guidelines around masking to allow fully vaccinated Californians to go without a mask in most indoor settings,” Ghaly said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom already has said that if cases remain low the state will drop nearly all COVID-19 restrictions on June 15.

But the state has said they still must wear masks indoors unless they are meeting with other vaccinated people. The state has other rules for businesses and other public places that vary by county under its color-coded tier system, which is based on the prevalence of the virus.

The federal agency’s guidelines, issued Thursday, similarly say people should wear masks in crowded indoor locations like airplanes, buses, hospitals and prisons.

Businesses are expected to adhere to the state’s guidelines, Ghaly said. That four-week delay will help businesses prepare for the transition to fewer restrictions, he said.

Ghaly noted that the CDC has said that it will keep the mask requirement in place for students for the rest of the calendar year, and said California will do the same.

John Kabateck, director of the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said the split between state and federal requirements will increase public confusion if people believe they no longer have to wear masks.

“It’s very difficult for small business owners to have to play ‘mask cop’ on a daily basis,” he said. “We hope that they will not be vulnerable to penalties and scrutiny by state regulators or plaintiffs’ attorneys because they’re trying to make sense of this labyrinth.”

But he was generally supportive of the state’s decision.

“We’re on our way to a full reopening in California,” Kabateck said. “If wearing masks for a little bit longer is an ounce of prevention that’s going to let mom-and-pops reopen their doors and get people back to work, that’s a step in the right direction.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the county will use the extra month to increase vaccination rates. So far 43% of residents 16 and over are fully vaccinated in the state’s most populous county.

“That means more than half of our adult population remains vulnerable,” Solis said.

Newsom initially gave conflicting previews last week on when the state might lift mask restrictions as it approaches a full reopening of its economy planned for June 15 with infection rates dwindling and inoculation rates rising.

More than a dozen states quickly said they would follow the new federal guidelines, but others were like California in weighing their response. Some retailers were also split, with Walmart, Costco and Trader Joe’s saying Friday that they won’t require vaccinated shoppers to wear a mask unless state or local laws say otherwise.

Newsom’s former chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, was among those upset by the CDC, which she said “acted so irresponsibly to adopt an ‘honor code’ for public mask wearing.”

“It’s not good public health advice to say to parents whose kids can’t get vaccinated, just trust the public to do the right thing with all the politicization over masks,” she tweeted, adding later that she was disappointed “that California isn’t going to remain stronger than the floor set by the CDC.”

Newsom, like the Biden administration, has been under pressure to ease mask restrictions particularly for those who are fully vaccinated and as coronavirus cases ease nationwide.

One of his Republican rivals, Republican businessman John Cox, said it was notable that Newsom had Ghaly deliver the bad news, noting that the Democratic governor traveled the state last week to unveil his proposed budget driven by an unprecedented revenue surplus. Cox said in a statement that California should immediately follow the CDC and relax its own mask mandate.

“He wants to take credit for spending billions of dollars, but then goes into hiding when he has something unpopular to announce,” Cox said. “There’s a reason he’s hiding: he’s wrong.”

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Associated Press writer Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.

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