California health officials announced Tuesday that the state plans to follow new federal guidelines and allow fully vaccinated individuals to no longer wear masks outdoors.
“We have reviewed and support the CDC’s new masking recommendations and are working quickly to align California’s guidance with these common sense updates,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement from the agency.
In a tweet announcing the news, Gov. Gavin Newsom applauded the state for managing to have the lowest test positivity rate and case rate in the entire country. Last week, only Hawaii beat the state in holding the lowest such statistics. But that changed this week as Hawaii’s test positivity and case rates inched upward in recent days while California’s have continued to decline.
Currently, the state has a test positivity rate of 1.2% and 33 new daily cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the total nationwide case rate is 116.4 cases per 100,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Los Angeles County will also update its own guidelines to align with new state and federal rules allowing vaccinated residents to go mask-free in most outdoor settings. The county joined federal health officials in still recommending facial coverings when keeping six feet apart is not possible.
Health officials have also warned that if people who are unvaccinated start to not wear masks, it could put the rest of the population at risk. More than 50% of the county is not yet fully inoculated, officials said.
“Because COVID-19 can still easily spread, unvaccinated people, who remain at highest risk of becoming infected, need to continue wearing masks in all settings where they are around people not in their household,” reads a statement from the county’s Department of Public Health.
The agency plans to release more details on the new mask rules later this week, officials said.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he hopes the new guidleines encourage younger people or others who may “think (they) don’t need it” to get their shots.
“Beginning today, gathering with a group of friends in a park, going for a picnic — as long as you are vaccinated and outdoors — you can do it without a mask,” Biden said.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said running, walking, hiking or doing other activities outdoors will no longer require covering one’s face if they are fully vaccinated. But the CDC continues to recommend that people wear facial coverings in particularly crowded settings or venues, such as music festivals and concert stadiums.
Walensky said extra precautions should be taken in these situations since there could be many unvaccinated people present, and it’s more difficult for people to stay six feet apart.
While the state plans to follow suit with federal guidelines, Aragón said some risks remain a factor, like the threats of potentially more easily transmitted variants of the virus and the fact that many Californians remain unvaccinated. He and CDC officials continue to urge everyone to get fully inoculated, hoping to gain herd immunity and finally lay most threats of the virus to rest.
From Santa Barbara to San Diego, every county in the Southern California region has made its way into the orange tier, increasing the capacity allowed indoors for restaurants and bars, and reopening long-shuttered amusement parks and movie theaters.
L.A. County has continued to make progress in lowering infection and death rates, allowing the county to possibly reach the least restrictive stage of the state’s reopening plan — the yellow tier — in a matter of weeks. Before the county’s announcement Tuesday, the city of L.A. had required wearing a mask anywhere outside one’s home, even if just to run along a trail or exercise on the beach.
As of Monday, more than 7 million doses of a COVID vaccine have been distributed countywide, including more than 2.5 million people who are fully vaccinated, health officials said.
On a national level, health officials are still urging those fully vaccinated to stay six feet apart from others and wear facial coverings in high-density environments like shopping malls. And they are leaving it up to governors to decide whether they want to follow suit in easing back mask rules.
That’s because even as case and deaths rates decline in California and other states, some parts of the country have become hotspots despite the mass vaccinations of Americans. Over the past two weeks, Michigan reported a record 91,000 cases — more COVID infections than both Texas and California combined during the same stretch of time, the Associated Press reported.
The state currently the highest coronavirus case rate in the country: 360.6 cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday. Health experts and doctors told AP more contagious virus variants, “average vaccine compliance” and less vigilance in following rules on facial coverings and physical distancing have been to blame.
Meanwhile, California has continued to make significant progress in recent weeks — reaching a new peak in its fight against the virus as case and test positivity rates fell to the lowest in the country.
Newsom said earlier this month the state could potentially fully reopen as soon as June 15.