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

California will wait until June 15 to align with federal guidance that no longer requires people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear face coverings in most situations, officials said today.

State Health Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said Monday that a four-week delay will allow businesses time to make adjustments and more people to get vaccinated.

“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,” he said.

The June date is when state officials are expected to lift most virus-related restrictions if current positive trends continue. In the meantime, local jurisdictions—like the Long Beach Health Department—will have to abide by the state’s rules.

“Until the State Health Order changes, the City cannot amend its Health Order and Long Beach’s mask mandate remains in place, including for vaccinated individuals,” city officials said last week.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County officials scheduled a briefing for 1p.m. Monday, when they were expected to stress to the public the need to continue the practice of physical distancing and wearing a cloth face covering.

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, however, did not immediately reverse existing mask-wearing requirements in Los Angeles County, Long Beach or in California as a whole.

Local requirements allow fully vaccinated residents to shed masks while indoors with other fully vaccinated people. But mask mandates remain in place for everyone working at or patronizing businesses—such as grocery stores or retail shops.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week that those mask requirements won’t be changing until at least late this week, when state Occupational Health and Safety regulators meet Thursday to consider possible changes to worksite masking guidelines. Long Beach has typically aligned its rules with LA County.

Ferrer’s comments echoed those being heard across the country, as health officials weigh the continued protection of workers who may not be vaccinated—and the thorny question of how business owners and employers can verify who has actually been vaccinated.

The revised CDC guidance was announced in response to repeated studies showing the effectiveness of the vaccines, offering people who have been inoculated a great deal of 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.

The new CDC guidance does not completely drop mask recommendations for vaccinated people. Face coverings are still recommended 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 have dropped the mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers, though store officials said they will not be asking for proof of vaccination.

The Associated Press and Breaking News Editor Jeremiah Dobruck contributed to this report.

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