California won’t implement new CDC face-mask guidance until June 15

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Fully vaccinated Yolo County residents must continue to wear face coverings in most indoor settings for the next four weeks. The state announced Monday that it will not implement new face-covering guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until June 15. That is the same date on which California is scheduled to reopen altogether, with capacity limits lifted on businesses and activities and an end to the color-coded, tier-based blueprint governing what is allowed county by county. Yolo County’s health officer previously rescinded the county health order on face coverings and said the county will follow the state’s lead going forward. That means unless Dr. Aimee Sisson decides the county needs to be stricter than the state, Yolo residents who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to ditch their face coverings in most indoor settings on June 15. Sisson indicated Tuesday she has some concerns about the CDC guidance. “My concern is not that fully vaccinated people are not protected by the vaccine, because we know that they are,” Sisson told the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. “In the rare instances of breakthrough cases, they tend to not have severe disease; they have mild or asymptomatic disease. “My concern with the CDC guidance … is the lack of an ability to enforce masking for those who are unvaccinated, because California and Yolo County don’t have a vaccine passport system. I know that’s being discussed at the state level, but I don’t think that’s going to be rolled out in the next month. So it leaves businesses and everybody else in a difficult position of trying to identify who is vaccinated and who is not vaccinated and asking people who are unvaccinated to continue to wear masks.” Speaking to reporters on Monday, California’s secretary of health and human services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said the June 15 date will allow individuals and businesses time to begin preparing for implementation of the new guidance and eligible individuals who have not yet gotten the vaccine to do so. “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 who were hard-hit throughout this pandemic,” Ghaly said. “We continue to urge … all Californians to get vaccinated to ensure that infections and hospitalization rates remain low across the state and that we can all return to those activities we love and have been missing for so long.” Ghaly said he anticipates as many as 70 percent of all eligible Californians will have received a COVID vaccine by the middle of June “and that does signify … broader community protection, so that individuals who either have chosen to delay vaccine for one reason or another or not get vaccinated, or frankly all the young people, 11 and younger across our state who don’t have a choice to get vaccinated at this time, making sure that we protect them.” Despite announcements over the weekend by some major retailers — like Costco and Trader Joes — that they would immediately implement CDC guidelines, Ghaly said until June 15, businesses in California must adhere to the state’s existing guidance requiring face coverings in indoor settings like stores regardless of vaccination status. “We expect businesses in California to adhere to where the state is and move to implement these standards… on June 15, as opposed to now,” he said. It remains unclear how, after June 15, a policy requiring masks for unvaccinated individuals indoors would be enforced, as Ghaly said the state does not have immediate plans for implementing a vaccine verification system, something the state has declined to do thus far. “We do plan to continue to work with business sectors, employers throughout the state, on exactly how this can be done to ensure that those without masks are indeed vaccinated and making sure that we continue to provide a high degree of protection for Californians,” he said. Asked about a digital vaccine verification system, such as the Excelsior pass used by New York, Ghaly said, “we’re following closely where this technology is heading, focused mostly on providing guidelines on how such technology might be implemented in California without saying definitively that California will adopt, similar to New York and other states, a vaccine passport type of program. “We believe this technology is going to evolve over the next weeks and months … but right now, no changes in our position.” Absent some way to verify who is and isn’t vaccinated, there won’t be any way to enforce masking for the unvaccinated, Sisson noted, prompting Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis to urge “extreme caution” and suggest consideration of “what our local order should be when we reach June 15.”

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