Californians vaccinated for COVID-19 can largely shed masks on June 15

Californians who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will be able to shed their face masks in most situations starting next week, state officials confirmed Wednesday.

The long-teased change will take effect Tuesday, the same date as California’s planned full economic reopening, and finally bring the nation’s most-populous state into alignment with nearly month-old COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In short, Californians who are two weeks removed from their last vaccine dose will be allowed to go mask-free in nearly all settings, with some exceptions that include transit hubs or aboard public transportation; in healthcare settings and long-term care facilities; indoors at K-12 schools, childcare facilities or other youth settings; in homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers; and in correctional facilities and detention centers.

Unvaccinated individuals, on the other hand, will still be required to mask up in public indoor settings — including restaurants when not eating or drinking, retail stores and movie theaters.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, said the state’s updated mask guidance “follows the science as we know it today.”

“We keep learning more and more every single day, every single week, every single month that we try to incorporate right into our thinking,” he said during a conference call with reporters.

Moving forward, he continued, “as soon as we have a sense that the CDC will be making additional changes or updates to their guidance, we will consider those and apply them accordingly in California.”

The duty of determining who is vaccinated and who is not will fall to individual business or venue owners. Ghaly said operators can either allow customers to self-attest that they’re vaccinated and therefore can enter without wearing a mask, implement some kind of vaccine verification system or require all patrons to wear a mask.

“We at the state level are giving all three options to private and independent operators to choose which is best-suited for their community and their business,” Ghaly said.

Notably, Ghaly said the state’s guidance will make clear that no one — even someone who is fully vaccinated — can be prevented from willingly wearing a mask as a condition of entering a business or participating in an activity.

Whatever the state’s overall rules, workplaces will still be subject to standards set by the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, which votes on proposals submitted by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA.

Last week, that board approved new standards proposed by Cal/OSHA requiring that employees continue to wear masks in some cases — including if anyone working inside a room is either unvaccinated or their vaccination status is not known by the employer.

However, during a special meeting that starts at 5 p.m. Wednesday, the board will receive briefings from both Cal/OSHA and the California Department of Public Health and “consider the impact of the presented information on the COVID-19 emergency temporary standards,” according to a meeting agenda.

It may seem like a lifetime ago, but it was only on April 6 that California officials announced their intent to fully reopen the state economy on June 15, doing away with restrictions that kept businesses such as restaurants and gyms open at no more than 50% of capacity.

At the time, the move hinged on two factors: a sufficient vaccine supply and low hospitalization numbers. California has improved in both those area in the last two months.

On April 6, about 36% of Californians had received at least one dose of vaccine; now, about 56% of Californians are at least partially vaccinated.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 also have plummeted statewide. On April 6, there were roughly 2,000 people in California hospitals, down from a peak of nearly 22,000 in early January. As of Monday, there were 1,015 patients with COVID-19 in state hospitals, one of the lowest numbers since California started tracking COVID-19 hospitalizations consistently more than 14 months ago.

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