California Will Continue Requiring Masks Until June 15; Rules For Businesses Still TBD

“On June 15, California plans to implement the CDC guidelines that allow fully-vaccinated people to go without a mask in most situations,” said state director of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly on Monday. “Until June 15, California will keep our existing guidance in place. In indoor settings, face coverings continue to be required regardless of vaccination status.”

One important point of distinction: Dr. Ghaly said that mask requirements for businesses in the state after June 15 were still up in the air. “This is separate from the review that CalOSHA will look at next week,” he said. “At the moment workplace protections will continue to be guided by the continuing emergency standards.”

That CalOSHA meeting is on the May 20th, but another state official on the call indicated that the decision may be made by an independent board, not CalOSHA. Deadline has reached out to CA HHS for clarification and will update this post with that information.

Meanwhile, supermarket chains including Trader Joe’s, Costco and Walmart have dropped the mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers, though store officials said they will not be asking for proof of vaccination. Dr. Ghaly said they need to align with the current — and currently unchanged — state rules.

“We expect businesses in CA to move to where the state is and move to [the new guidance] on June 15,” he said.

Exactly what that guidance will be is still nebulous, both for businesses and individuals. Ghaly himself admitted that it’s a work in progress.

“There’s certain areas where masking will and should continue. We’ll be watching that list closely with the CDC, but for now we don’t have any additions beyond what we’ve seen with the CDC’s guidelines,” he said.

“We are in no way saying that the science or direction by the CDC its wrong,” Ghaly continued, but noted to a reporter that by pushing out the transition date to June 15, “California has given ourselves some time to answer questions like yours and others in the next few weeks.”

Ghaly’s statements come after confusing and seemingly contradictory messages from President Biden, the CDC, governors, state officials and local officials.

Early last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom was strident in his assurance that masks were going away for fully-vaccinated residents.

On Tuesday, Newsom was asked by a reporter if there would be a mask mandate after June 15. The usually-loquacious Newsom said quickly, “No.” He then enumerated a few rare circumstances where masks would still be needed.

“Only in those massively large [indoor] settings where people from around the world are convening & people are mixing in real dense spaces. Otherwise…no mandates,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Governor seemed to remove the “massively large” from his indoor prohibition, telling reporters, “For indoor activities we still will have, likely, some mask mandates. But the hope is those will be lifted sooner rather than later.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s take early last week was in opposition to Newsom’s.

“In New York, we have always relied on the facts and the science to guide us throughout the worst of this pandemic and in our successful reopening,” Cuomo said.

“We have received the newly revised guidance from the CDC regarding mask wearing and social distancing for those with vaccinations and are reviewing them in consultation with Dr. Zucker and our partners and health experts in surrounding states.”

But by Monday morning, Cuomo had come around tweeting, “Effective Wednesday, NYS will adopt the CDC’s new mask & social distancing guidance for vaccinated people. Unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask. Masks will still be required on public transit, in schools & some communal settings. Private venues may require masks.”

Why New York is making the switch effective Wednesday while California — with the lowest 7-day test positivity rate in the nation — is waiting until June 15 remains a mystery.

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