The announcement comes as more than a dozen other states have already begun lifting their mask mandates after getting the green light from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued new guidance on Thursday that says it is safe for fully vaccinated people to forgo face coverings and social distancing in most indoor settings, including stores and restaurants.
"It's in no way saying that the science or the direction by the CDC is wrong or there's a challenge to it," Ghaly said. "It's really just giving ourselves some additional time to have it implemented with a high degree of integrity, with the continued focus on protecting the public health in mind."
Amid plummeting COVID-19 infections in California and rising inoculation rates, Gov. Gavin Newsom — who is facing a recall election — has been under pressure to ease mask restrictions, and just last week offered conflicting previews on when the state might lift them.
"Until June 15, when California plans to fully reopen our economy, California will keep our existing guidance around masks in place," Ghaly said. "In indoor settings, when you're outside of one's home, including on transportation and in our schools, face coverings continue to be required, regardless of vaccination status."
Only at that point, he said, when the state plans to drop most of its current pandemic-related restrictions, will it implement the CDC’s new masking guidelines that "allow fully vaccinated Californians to go without a mask in most indoor settings."
Even after June 15, California will continue to require mask-wearing in all public schools, in line with CDC guidelines. Masks will also still be required in some public spaces, including hospitals, public transit and congregate housing facilities like nursing homes, homeless shelters and prisons.
Ghaly said all businesses in California are expected to adhere to the guidelines, including national chains like Starbucks, Walmart and Trader Joe's, which have already announced they will no longer require customers to don masks in regions where the new CDC guidelines have been adopted. That four-week delay, he added, will help California businesses prepare for the transition to fewer restrictions and give more residents a chance to get vaccinated.
As of Monday, some 15.4 million Californians — almost 40% of the state — had been fully vaccinated against the virus, and the state's positivity rate had fallen to below 1%, among the lowest in the country.