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California weighing issues around new CDC masking guidelines

A pedestrian walks in front of an American flag painted on a wall during the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Counties in California are waiting for guidance from the state after the federal government on Thursday said that fully vaccinated people can quit face coverings and social distancing in most situations. California’s Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to questions about whether it would adopt new guidance announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

By CHRISTOPHER WEBER and JANIE HAR, LOS ANGELES (AP) — California’s governor said Friday that his office is weighing issues of enforcement and workplace safety in considering whether and when to adopt the latest federal guidelines around masking.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said his office has been talking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health officers and other states since the CDC’s announcement Thursday calling for fully vaccinated people to skip face coverings and social distancing in most situations.

The agency’s guidelines still call for people to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, such as buses, planes, hospitals and prisons, and says residents should follow local rules.

But Newsom says he doesn’t know what the federal guidelines would look like in schools, where younger children are not yet able to get vaccinated, and what happens if businesses want to require masks.

“There’s a whole host of complexities that we all have to work through,” Newsom said when asked of the guidelines at a budget briefing. He said some governors are quick to “default to the CDC guidelines, but now are starting to appreciate some of the nuances and complexities around enforcement or lack thereof.”

The state is on track to fully reopen its economy next month, signaling an end to most pandemic restrictions, with infection rates at record lows and more people inoculated against the coronavirus. On Thursday, the state began allowing children 12 to 15 to receive the vaccine.

The CDC’s announcement raised more questions for some health officials, including Dr. Barbara Ferrer, public health director for Los Angeles County, home to about one-quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million people.

“I think that the question that’s top of mind for many people is: What does this mean when people are going around their day-to-day business?” she said. “The big issue that we’re facing is making sure we’re still able to protect our workers.”

At least 60% of residents 16 and older are partially vaccinated in California. But the percentages of people vaccinated vary widely by county and across the country. There’s also no way to know who is vaccinated or who is just saying they are.

“I think this is early,” Marin County public health officer Dr. Matt Willis said on San Francisco’s KGO-TV. “Frankly, the idea of people not covering their faces indoors when they’re gathered together, it’s concerning that there would be ongoing transmission.”

In California, people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask outdoors unless at crowded events. But they still have to wear a mask indoors unless meeting with other vaccinated people. The state has a number of other rules for businesses and other public places that vary by county based on the prevalence of the virus.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this week that in June residents will not be wearing face coverings except for at large-scale indoor convention events. But the next day, he said the state is likely to have “guidelines and mandates” for wearing masks indoors after the state fully reopens.

Disability rights activist Sascha Bittner, 47, has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and survived lymphoma. She plans to keep wearing a mask and stay away from people she doesn’t know unless she is certain she’s in a place where everyone else is vaccinated.

She wishes the Biden administration had waited until more people had been vaccinated nationally.

“I will mask up and keep socially distanced for as long as I see fit. I also won’t be around people lax in their protocols yet,” the San Francisco resident said by email. “I’m just not there yet, and I REALLY hope people will see we aren’t quite there yet.”

Berkeley resident Justin Grant said he wishes the federal government had loosened outdoor masking rules earlier, given that all the scientific research he’s seen shows “that outdoor masking is completely unnecessary.”

He waited Thursday at a Walgreens pharmacy with his 13-year-old daughter, who had just received her vaccination. She wanted the shot so she can hang out with her friends, he said, and he had no hesitation letting her get the vaccine, given that he trusts the science. She can visit with friends two weeks after her second shot, when she’s fully vaccinated, he said.

Counties say nothing has changed as they wait for the state to give direction.

“As more people are vaccinated and case counts decrease it is natural for some of the regulations to loosen, but that is not greenlight to be reckless. Situational awareness is important,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.

___

Har reported from San Francisco.

 

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