By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — California’s statewide indoor mask mandate officially expired Wednesday, allowing millions of fully vaccinated residents across the state to enter most indoor public spaces without wearing a mask.
The majority of California counties aligned with the state’s guidance, which allows fully vaccinated individuals to remove their masks in many indoor spaces. The state had reinstated a statewide indoor mask mandate on Dec. 15 amid rising cases of COVID-19.
Under the updated guidance, unvaccinated individuals are still required to wear a face covering in all indoor settings, and masking is still recommended but not required for fully vaccinated individuals when the risk of infection is high, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The change in the state’s guidance comes after the state saw a dramatic decrease in case rates and hospitalizations over the last month. During a news conference on Monday, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state Health and Human Services secretary, reported that cases declined 75% between Jan. 14 and Feb. 14, and hospitalizations are down 40% over the last month.
Indoor masking requirements remain in place in certain settings across the state, including in healthcare settings, jails and prisons, long-term care facilities and K-12 schools. A federal mask mandate also remains in place for public transit.
Earlier this week, Dr. Ghaly announced that the state plans to “reassess” the mask mandate for schools at the end of the month, and he expects to provide a more specific date for lifting the mandate on Feb. 28.
Some counties, including Los Angeles, Mendocino and Santa Clara counties, have elected to keep a local indoor mask mandate in place until COVID-19 case rates improve.
In a statement last week, Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County public health director, said indoor masking remains “critical” to protecting the community, including those who are elderly or immunocompromised.
“We must continue to base our decisions on the risks COVID-19 presents to our community, and we look forward to lifting the indoor mask requirement as soon as we can do so without putting vulnerable people at undue risk,” Dr. Cody said in a statement last week.
Los Angeles County will also keep its indoor mask mandate in place until case rates improve, though the county announced it was relaxing its outdoor masking rules on Wednesday. This means residents will be able to shed their masks in the exterior areas of “mega events” and in outdoor areas of K-12 schools and childcare centers, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In order to the county to lift its universal mask mandate indoors, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors last week that the county must reach “moderate” level of virus transmission for two weeks — defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.