Monday, January 30, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Mask Mandate to Remain in California Until June 15

State officials will resist the urge to adopt the CDC's weakened mask guidance and continue to require vaccinated people to wear masks indoors for another month.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) --- Resisting the urge to drop masks despite new federal guidance, California officials announced Monday statewide mandates will remain until the state fully reopens on June 15.

Officials said the decision to wait before adopting the Biden administration’s directions --- unlike a number of other major states that made instant changes --- will give counties and businesses time to implement the change and allow more Californians to get vaccinated before the state’s planned demasking.

California Health and Human Services chief Mark Ghaly told reporters the decision is borne out of caution and is not a repudiation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest mask guidance.

“We’re making amazing progress in our fight against Covid-19,” Ghaly said. “This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change while we continue the relentless focus on delivering vaccines.”

Next month, fully vaccinated Californians won’t be required to wear masks in most indoor settings regardless of size, allowing nearly 40 million residents to shop, dine or see a movie freely for the first time in over a year. Masks will still be required on public transit and various sites such as schools and hospitals, while private businesses and individual counties may choose to enforce stricter policies.

Masks in public settings have been required since June 2020, when Governor Gavin Newsom said the now-commonplace pandemic gizmos were needed to stave off a looming summer infection wave. Though the state ultimately languished through two more devastating stretches, it has clearly turned the corner.

Optimism is rising among public health officials as for several months the state has seen a continued drop in pandemic trends to go with a rise in vaccinations.

On Monday, California reported 995 new daily infections along with a 0.9% positivity rate, a sharp downturn from last winter when daily totals peaked at over 50,000 cases and more than one in 10 coronavirus tests returned positive. In addition, after a slow start California has issued more vaccine doses than any other state with 15.5 million of its 40 million residents fully vaccinated people.  

Last week the CDC announced Americans who are completely vaccinated can now go into most indoor settings without a mask, like to the office. Dozens of states have already dropped or made plans to end mask mandates, while major companies like Walmart, Target and Starbucks have also eased their rules for vaccinated customers and employees.

Earlier Monday morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the Empire State would adopt the CDC’s rules while Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said changes are coming “shortly.”

The CDC generally considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series shot, like those issued by PfizerBioNTech or Moderna, and two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

If these requirements are not met, no matter how old or young, the CDC does not consider this to be full vaccination and says such individuals should still wear a mask and practice social distancing.

But while other states with Democratic governors are quickly embracing the feds’ advice, universal masking will remain for another at least another month in California.

Ghaly defended the June 15 date by noting it conveniently coincides with the state’s full reopening plan Newsom outlined last month. Under his plan, California will lift most pandemic business restrictions assuming vaccine supply is adequate and cases remain low.

In addition, Ghaly said the pause will hopefully spur residents that have resisted the vaccine to get their shots before California’s grand reopening. By June 15, Ghaly says it’s possible the state could have 65-70% of its eligible population vaccinated.

“There’s very little wait, we’re trying to make it as easy as possible,” Ghaly pitched to the millions still on the fence.

Earlier this month California stopped requiring masks outdoors except in large crowds or places where physical distancing isn’t possible.

The move by Newsom to keep vaccinated Californians in masks drew instant criticism from lawmakers as well as his GOP opponents in the upcoming recall election.

“This is like saying, ‘we are going to follow the science, but we are going to wait until June 15 to do so,” said Assemblyman Chad Mayes, an independent, on Twitter.  

“It speaks volumes about Gavin Newsom’s leadership and the failures of his government that he is unable or unwilling to follow the guidance of the CDC. California deserves better leadership,” added businessman John Cox.

Come June 15, it remains unclear how or if businesses will be required to verify whether customers are vaccinated. Ghaly said though the state has no plans to adopt any sort of digital verification system, it will monitor how other states implement the so-called vaccine passport technology.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.