Governor says wearing masks likely to continue

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Although the state lifted the vast majority of its COVID-19 restrictions June 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned that the virus is still active and mask-wearing will continue to be a reality for non- vaccinated residents, at businesses that require them or for people who simply feel safer wearing them.

Newsom also said he is prepared to issue an executive order later this week to immediately implement work-site mask-wearing regulations, if the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approves them.

Under normal procedures, the board’s decision would have to be reviewed by state attorneys and wouldn’t take effect until the end of the month. Newsom’s executive order would close that gap and immediately implement the rules.

Cal-OSHA officials June 11 released the proposed new workplace rules, which largely align with state mask-wearing guidance for the general public. The rules would require businesses to verify workers’ vaccination status and make masks available to unvaccinated workers. Vaccinated workers would not be required to wear masks in the workplace under the proposed rules.

Some business owners and associations have pushed back at the idea of employers being required to verify workers’ vaccination status.

With the statewide lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, questions have persisted about requirements for mask wearing. Newsom warned that the move away from economic restrictions does not mean mask wearing will go away, nor will the pandemic.

I want to encourage people, and I think this question highlights the importance of the ongoing work,” Newsom said. “We’re not done. … It’s not mission accomplished. … This virus is not going away. … This pandemic is not behind us. …

“We’re very mindful that already in 2021, globally, more people have lost their lives to COVID than the entire year 2020.”

California’s mask-wearing guidance for the general public will align largely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The guidance will allow fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most situations. But they will still be required in certain settings:

• On public transit, including airplanes, ships, trains, buses, taxis and ride-hailing vehicles, and in transportation hubs such as airports, bus terminals, train stations, seaports, marinas and subway stations.

• Indoors at K-12 schools, child-care facilities and other youth settings.

Health-care settings, including long-term care facilities.

• All state and local correctional facilities and detention centers.

• And at homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers.

Masks will be required for unvaccinated people in indoor public settings and businesses such as retail stores, restaurants, theaters, movie theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices serving the public.

Business and event-venue operators can choose how to enforce those rules. According to the state, they have three options:

• Businesses and venues can publicly post rules regarding mask-wearing and allow customers and visitors to “self-attest” that they are vaccinated, meaning if someone enters the business without a mask they are attesting to being vaccinated.

• They can implement a vaccine-verification system to determine whether individuals are required to wear a mask.

• Or they can simply require all patrons to wear a mask.

Newsom recognized the issues with “self-attestation,” which essentially is an honor system, but said people “we hope will be honest about that.” But he stressed businesses can continue to mandate that all customers wear masks.

Businesses can continue to make choices for themselves, what works for your business,” he said. “We’re not going to mandate passports, but businesses can require verification. Businesses can require mask-wearing. Businesses have the freedom of choice across the spectrum.

You’re going to be in a scenario where a lot of people are going to be wearing masks — because they choose to wear masks, because businesses make requirements as it relates to masking,” he said. “We’re not where we all want to be, which is this pandemic completely extinguished. We’re just at the point with … case rates this low — and by the way California has the third-lowest positivity rate in America, and among the lowest case rates in America.”