The messaging about wearing masks, along with social distancing and washing hands, among tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has been prevalent in signage and words for months throughout Modesto and Stanislaus County.

The messaging about wearing masks, along with social distancing and washing hands, among tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has been prevalent in signage and words for months throughout Modesto and Stanislaus County.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has decided the state will adopt the new federal guidelines for masks on June 15, when the state economy is scheduled to fully reopen.

“This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change while we continue our relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly in underserved communities,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the Health and Human Services Agency said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined last week it was OK for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to stop wearing masks in most indoor settings. Previous directives relaxed the guidance for mask-wearing outdoors.

The state announcement Monday continues a June 2020 order for Californians to wear face coverings near people after leaving their households.

The state has required customers to wear masks while shopping inside stores, on public transportation and in other indoor settings.

In early May, the state stopped requiring vaccinated people to wear facemasks outdoors except at crowded events; unvaccinated people are expected to wear masks outdoors when physical distancing isn’t possible.

Last week, Stanislaus County officials said they were waiting for the state’s announcement before making any local recommendations.

Stanislaus is one of 11 counties in California where COVID-19 still is spreading at a “substantial” rate, according to the state Department of Public Health. The county’s 7-day average of new cases is around 10 per 100,000 population, which is fourth highest among the state’s 58 counties.

Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, county public health officer, said after Monday’s state announcement that masking is still important to control the spread of COVID-19 illness in this county.

“Our transmission is still high,” Vaishampayan said in a statement. “We are still listed as substantial transmission, so our level of transmission certainly supports ongoing mitigation efforts to protect our vulnerable community members.”

Vaishampayan said county residents who remain at risk include unvaccinated people and individuals who may not respond that well to vaccination, such as people with weakened immune systems due to chemotherapy or an organ transplant.

As of last week, about 30 percent of the total population of Stanislaus County was fully vaccinated. The county has lately seen lower turnout at its clinics offering the approved COVID vaccines.

The health officer said that Cal OSHA is still requiring employees to wear masks in the workplace. Vaishampayan said she did not think the Cal OSHA rules will change in accordance with the CDC guidance. “The new CDC guidance doesn’t apply to workers,” her statement said.

Some county elected officials have favored the CDC guidelines and have wanted the state to clarify mask requirements for schools and sports activities.

“If the CDC says we can take our masks off, we should be able to take our masks off,” county Supervisor Terry Withrow said soon after Monday’s state announcement. “We are told to follow the CDC guidelines. But it seems like they pick and choose what rules they want to follow. Why would the governor not follow (the guidelines) now?”

Withrow has been known for not wearing a face covering at county Board of Supervisors meetings when other county officials are masked up. He explained that he’s never worn a mask because the supervisors are safely spaced 6 feet apart with plexiglass between them.

The supervisor said he believed COVID regulations in the board chambers including face coverings, distancing and capacity limits will be maintained until mid-June.

California’s rules starting June 15 will still allow counties, cities and individual businesses to set their own rules for mask wearing, meaning some local governments and private businesses could still continue requiring residents and customers to use face coverings, Ghaly said.

Vaccinated people can catch COVID-19, although such cases of breakthrough infection are rare and usually result in less serious illness. Everyone, including fully vaccinated people, is still supposed to stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for the coronavirus, according to the CDC.

Ghaly said it’s a good idea for people, who have waited to get vaccinated, to sign up for an appointment in the next four weeks. Starting on June 15, the state plans to end mask-wearing requirements and also capacity limits for businesses. An unvaccinated person will no longer have those protections when out in public.

After June 15, vaccinated people will still need to mask up when using public transportation and in health care settings including in doctors offices, hospitals and nursing homes.

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

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Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.

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