Virus Outbreak California

Dr. Michael Forino (right) gets the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

(The Center Square) – California officials have confirmed residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can leave their face masks in their back pockets with a few exceptions.

Businesses, however, still will be able to force customers to wear masks or require proof of vaccination that could be akin to what some are calling the “honor system.”

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed Wednesday the state will allow fully vaccinated residents to go about much of their pre-COVID-19 pandemic activities without a face covering.

The state is waiting until June 15 to allow residents who had been wearing a mask for more than a year to acclimate, officials said in May.

The department later formally announced it would comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that says fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks or social distance in most situations. Those who aren’t vaccinated will have to keep masks on in indoor settings for the time being.

Effective when the state removes its COVID-19 mitigation restrictions June 15, state officials suggested businesses and other locales may approach mask mandates in one of three ways. They may require masks of all patrons regardless of vaccination status, create some sort of system that would uniformly verify customers are vaccinated or rely on what Ghaly called “self attestation,” or simply saying that they’re fully vaccinated. 

“I think all systems of verification are fraught with some challenges,” he said. “People’s sense of being able to protect their own information, operate a business in a certain way, was more important. ... Some business owners very well may decide that the ‘honor system’ as [the reporter’s] calling it, is not sufficient, and they’re going to require all patrons to their business to wear masks.”

Ghaly said the new guidelines would ban businesses from discrimination based on a customer’s want to wear a mask.

The department’s new guidance is for what Ghaly called “general settings.” At the same time, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (CAL/OSHA) is responsible for most workplace rules and would overrule health department guidelines governing workers.

The board met Wednesday evening, expressing intent to better align with CDC guidelines as well but weren’t able to do so in an emergency meeting. Its previous guidance said all employees must wear masks if even one worker in the business isn’t vaccinated.

Business groups wrote Gov. Gavin Newsom on June 7, asking him to override CAL/OSHA’s guidelines and saying requiring them to provide N95 masks for unvaccinated workers was prohibitively expensive.

Members of the business community pleaded with the board Wednesday night to rescind regulations they said pit workers against each other and put high costs on businesses.

“You are clearly struggling to make an appropriate decision,” said Michael Miller with the California Association of Wine Grape Growers.

Fifty-three percent of eligible California residents have been vaccinated, and 70% have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.