Inside crowd
Customers wait in line to order Mexican food inside the Grand Central Market on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles on Friday. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Pandemic Life

California will wait until June 15 to adopt new CDC mask guidelines

Californians fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can go mask-free in most indoor settings starting June 15 — which is also the target date for reopening the state’s economy.

Californians fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can go mask-free in most indoor settings starting June 15 — which also is the target date for reopening the state’s economy, officials announced Monday.

The June 15 change will bring the state into alignment with recently released guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal health officials said last week that available evidence demonstrated it was safe for fully vaccinated people to go without masks in most places, whether outdoors or inside.

That was only a recommendation, though, and the final call was largely left to state and local governments.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, said that state officials are opting to wait a bit before implementing those new guidelines to give businesses and workers time to prepare for the change — and residents more time to receive their shots.

“It’s in no way saying that the science or the direction by the CDC is wrong or there’s a challenge to it,” he said during a briefing Monday. “It’s really just giving ourselves across the state some additional time to have it implemented with a high degree of integrity, with a continued focus on protecting the public.”

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their final dose.

California’s existing rules, last updated May 3, generally require masks to be worn by everyone indoors whenever outside their homes, with exceptions, such as when you’re outside a workplace setting and everyone indoors is vaccinated; or when there are only members of one unvaccinated household present and all have a low risk of severe complications should they get COVID-19.

Unvaccinated people must also wear masks outdoors at any time they can’t maintain six feet of distance from someone else, and fully vaccinated people need to wear masks only in crowded outdoor settings, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals and sports events.

Monday’s announcement doesn’t mean June 15 will bring a completely maskless existence, though. Under the federal guidance, unvaccinated or partly vaccinated people are still asked to wear masks in almost all indoor settings and most outdoor venues when interacting with people from outside their household who may not be vaccinated.

Members of a single household of unvaccinated people can be maskless indoors if everyone else is vaccinated and can go without masks at small outdoor gatherings with other unvaccinated people.

Ghaly also noted that California’s guidance is “not a ceiling on the restrictions, in some ways it’s a floor,” and individual businesses or local health jurisdictions can ultimately opt to either delay relaxing mask requirements, or maintain them in certain instances.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s mask-wearing requirements at businesses, including restaurants and supermarkets, remain in effect at this point.

Following the CDC’s announcement some retailers — including Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Costco — said they would no longer require fully vaccinated shoppers to don masks.

Ghaly, though, said “we expect businesses in California to adhere to where the state is and move to implement these standards, or prepare for them, on June 15 as opposed to now.”

California’s strict mask rules have long been a hallmark of the state’s pandemic response, with officials noting that properly worn masks can significantly stymie transmission of the coronavirus.

However, the thinking around COVID-19 has evolved throughout the pandemic.

“The science now shows that your vaccination protects you as well as being masked or better than being masked,” President Joe Biden said during a briefing Monday. “So you can protect yourself from serious illness from COVID by getting vaccinated or wearing a mask until you’re fully vaccinated. Either way you’re protected.”

Still, California’s announcement appears to be in alignment with criticism from some public health experts of the CDC’s guidelines, who asked for more time for unvaccinated people to get vaccinated before a more widespread relaxation of mask mandates for vaccinated people.

Times staff writer Hayley Smith contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.