California To wait until June 15 to ditch COVID-19 mask requirement

City News Service

California will wait until June 15 to align with federal guidance no longer requiring people who have received a coronavirus vaccination to wear face coverings, officials said Monday.

The June date is when Gov. Gavin Newsom previously said he intends to lift most virus-related restrictions, barring setbacks.

“On June 15, California plans to implement the CDC’s guidelines around masking to allow fully vaccinated Californians to go without a mask in most indoor settings. This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change while we continue our relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly in underserved communities,” state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

Under CDPH guidelines issued last summer, face coverings are required under most circumstances. However, last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance, saying that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can largely stop wearing a mask in most indoor and outdoor situations.

That announcement did not immediately reverse existing mask-wearing requirements in Riverside County, or elsewhere in the state.

Former Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser unilaterally issued a face covering mandate in early April 2020, saying residents could be fined for not complying. But that health order and several others were overturned by the Board of Supervisors a month later, based in part on public opposition and a desire by the county to be in general alignment with state requirements.

When the state mandate on coverings was published last June, the county reverted to a masking requirement.

The order has not been rigidly enforced, with Sheriff Chad Bianco declaring a year ago that he would not assign deputies to look for violators or write tickets. He also publicly asserted last November that the governor’s stay- at-home orders, which have since been rescinded, were an affront to personal liberty, and deputies would not have any part in enforcing them.

County Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Jeff Hewitt have, for the most part, not worn masks at board meetings in the last year, and many attendees have refused to wear them, as a sign of protest against what they have complained to the board is government overreach, with a few speakers calling it “medical tyranny.”

Board Chair Karen Spiegel said last week she would rather not wear one, but felt she had to “set an example.”

The CDC’s initial guidance in April 2020 was that masking was a preferred precaution in closed spaces where distancing wasn’t possible. Amid growing numbers of COVID-19 cases nationwide, the agency changed its guidelines, saying indoor and outdoor use of masks was recommended.

The CDC’s revised guidance was announced in response to repeated studies showing the effectiveness of the vaccines, offering people who have been inoculated protection against infection or severe illness if they are infected.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Riverside University Health System officials are slated to address the changes during Tuesday’s board meeting.

The new guidance does not completely drop mask recommendations for vaccinated people. Face coverings are still urged in some settings — such as aboard planes and buses, or in crowded settings such as hospitals.

Supermarket chains including Trader Joe’s, Costco and Walmart on Friday dropped the mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers, though store officials said they will not be asking for proof of vaccination.

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