California Won't Lift Its Mask Requirement For Another Month
California won’t lift its mask requirement until June 15 to give the public and businesses time to prepare and ensure cases stay low, the state health director said Monday.
“This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change, while we continue the relentless focus on delivering vaccines particularly to underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.
Many other states lifted 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.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom already has said that if cases remain low, the state will drop nearly all COVID-19 restrictions on June 15.
RELATED: San Diegans Wrestle With Face-Mask Rules Amid Updated CDC Guidance
California's current rules say people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask outdoors unless they are attending crowded gatherings. But the state says those people must wear masks indoors unless they are meeting with other vaccinated people.
The CDC guidelines, issued Thursday, similarly say people should wear masks in crowded indoor locations such as airplanes, buses, hospitals and prisons.
Other California rules involving businesses and public places vary by county under California’s color-coded tier system, which is based on the prevalence of the virus. Businesses are expected to adhere to the state’s guidelines, Ghaly said.
He said the four-week delay in fully dropping the mask mandate will help businesses prepare for the transition to fewer restrictions. The CDC has said it will keep the mask requirement in place for students for the rest of the calendar year, and Ghaly 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.
“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.”
Still, Kabateck he was generally supportive of the state's decision.
“We’re on our way to a full reopening in California," he 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.”
San Diego retiree Raphael Sanchez, 64, called it “a scrambled egg message” and blamed his fellow Democrat Newsom for sending conflicting signals involving state rules and the governor's own behavior, such as attending a fancy dinner party with lobbyists while telling residents to avoid such gatherings.
San Diego hair stylist Emily Follweiler, 27, was relieved masks will still be required indoors.
“I think people should still keep wearing it and not have to rely on an honor system,” she said. “I don’t know how else you would know if someone is fully vaccinated or not, and some anti-vaxers might just take it off anyway since you don’t know.”
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.
Wearing masks and social distancing remain “critically important strategies,” said Los Angeles County health director Barbara Ferrer, a strategy seconded by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
“The message now must be to stay the course,” Feinstein said.
California's positivity rate has fallen below 1%, officials said Monday, and more than 34.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered as the state approaches the full reopening of its economy.
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 they won’t require vaccinated shoppers to wear a mask unless state or local laws say otherwise.
Newsom, like the Biden administration, has been under pressure to ease mask restrictions as coronavirus cases ease nationwide.
The governor is facing a recall election this fall driven largely by frustration with his handling of the pandemic.
One of his Republican rivals, Republican businessman John Cox, said it was notable that Newsom had Ghaly deliver the news about the mask mandate, noting that the Democratic governor traveled the state last week to unveil his proposed budget driven by an unprecedented revenue surplus. Cox said 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.”