County to stand with state on keeping mask mandate until June 15
Businesses, other organizations must continue telling customers to cover up
On Monday, May 17, California shrugged off federal masking guidelines released late last week, indicating that faces should remain covered in crowded places, especially if they’re indoors, through June 15, the date the state intends to end its tiered reopening system.
That eventuality continues to look more likely every day. Monday’s COVID-19 report listed just 47 new cases, the lowest single-day total since 43 cases were added to the local pandemic total April 12. Daily totals have not yet been consistently under 100, so nobody’s quite ready to declare a new case trend just yet.
The state has said that scrapping the tier system and allowing full occupancy once again will depend on hospitalizations remaining low. That was certainly the case in San Diego County Sunday, May 16, when hospitals reported 118 patients in beds with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnoses.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, health and human services secretary, said during a midday news conference that his department does not disagree with the evidence of lower coronavirus transmission cited last week and over the weekend by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the main reason for its unexpected ruling.
But he said that California can benefit from another month of vaccinations, also giving businesses a little more time to prepare.
“It’s in no way saying that the science or the direction by the CDC is wrong or there was a challenge to it,” Ghaly said. “It’s really just giving ourselves across the state some additional time to have it implemented with a degree of integrity with a continued focus on protecting the public’s health.”
Nathan Fletcher, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, quickly released a statement Monday afternoon, May 16, making it clear that local government will follow the state’s lead.
“Continuing the mask requirements for a few more weeks provides an added layer of protection as we work on getting more San Diegans vaccinated,” Fletcher said. “Masks definitely help more than they hurt.”
The CDC guidance indicates that those who are fully vaccinated — two weeks past their final dose — can generally move through life unmasked, even in crowded indoor situations, though some venues, such as health care, still require face coverings.
David Cohn, co-founder of the Cohn Restaurant Group, one of the largest fine dining consortiums in San Diego, said Monday, May 16, that the opinion should help in situations where patrons may cite the CDC guidance but ignore the state rule. Having no immediate statement from Ghaly or the governor last week, he said, caused some confusion when patrons arrived with their faces uncovered even though the state’s mask mandate was still in place.
“It was a tough situation for restaurants over the weekend, and it will continue to be difficult,” Cohn said.
He added that his locations will continue asking patrons to keep covered until they’re seated.
“We’re going to continue to ask our guests to wear a mask and follow California requirements and regulations,” Cohn said. “Hopefully, June 15 will come around soon.”
In a short statement, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park said that its visitors have been “understanding and compliant about wearing masks” since the CDC guidance appeared last week. Tracy Spahr, a spokesperson for SeaWorld San Diego, said that most visitors over the weekend arrived masked, though a handful had to be reminded that masks are still required in California.
Some large grocery chains, including Trader Joes, Walmart and Costco, said last week that they would begin allowing their customers to shop without masks if they were fully vaccinated. It was not clear Monday afternoon, May 16, how Trader Joes would respond. Walmart and Costco mask-related announcements included included language that masks should still be worn in states where local government requires them.
— Paul Sisson is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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