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California counties await mask, social distancing guidance

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LOS ANGELES (AP) 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 whether outside or inside.

California’s Department of Public Health did not respond to questions about whether and when the state would adopt new guidance announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, such as buses, hospitals and prisons, and says residents should follow local rules.

It’s unclear what Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to do and when. The state is on track to reopen its economy broadly next month, signaling an end to most pandemic restrictions, as infection rates stay low and more people get vaccinated. On Thursday, the state began allowing children ages 12 to 15 to receive the vaccine.

On Tuesday, Newsom told a television station in Los Angeles that residents will not be wearing face coverings except for at large-scale indoor convention events. But on Wednesday, he said the state is likely to have “guidelines and mandates” for wearing masks indoors after the state fully reopens next month.

The CDC’s announcement raised more questions for some public health officials, including Dr. Barbara Ferrer, public health director for massive Los Angeles County.

“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 asked. “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.

In Northern California, Marin County’s public health officer, Dr. Matt Willis, said people won’t be wearing masks forever and the federal guidance is a sign of progress. But the percentages of people vaccinated vary widely by county and across the country.

“I think this is early,” he told 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.”

California now requires people to wear a mask when indoors with people who are not vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people can ditch masks except when attending large gatherings such as sporting events, festivals and concerts. 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.

San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, which has been among the strictest in the country in mandating masks and social distancing, cheered the announcement as “great news” on social media, saying that it underscored the efficacy of the vaccine. The department said it must wait for the state to adopt new guidelines.

“We know people are eager to shed their masks and the quickest way we can arrive at a place where it is safe to do so, is for every eligible person to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” the department said on Twitter.

Riverside County also will follow state guidelines on masking and social distancing, said Jose Arballo Jr., a spokesman for the County Department of Public Health.

“We expect the state rules to come down at any time, so we’ll follow what the state says,” Arballo said Thursday from a vaccine site in Moreno Valley.

About thousand people had come to get their shots by midday, including a handful of children between 12 and 15 years old, he said. All of the young people arrived with their immediate families, he said.

“They were following the rest of their family. They talked about wanting to be like the rest of their family. They wanted to get vaccinated as a group so they could go out and travel and do things together,” Arballo said.

California News / News / Top Stories

The Associated Press

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