A customer wearing a mask leaves Marshalls discount store in El Centro on Wednesday, June 16, while another patron in a mask can be seen inside. Although many mask restrictions and COVID-19-related measures were removed or eased on Tuesday, June 15, there are certain regulations still in place for the public and businesses. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
The change comes as California’s same-day capacity limits, social distancing requirements and most COVID-19 restrictions on businesses ended on Tuesday, June 15.
Yet there are still some restrictions in place, Imperial County Public Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday said.
If fully vaccinated, those visiting businesses don’t necessarily need to wear masks, he said. However, those working still must have coverings.
While throughout the country mask mandates have been met with resistance, indifference, enthusiasm, and all points in between, not everyone is ready to let them go.
“I’m wearing my mask till we are 100 percent over it, and so are my kids and grandkids. You never know who is actually vaccinated, so it’s not worth the risk for our little ones,” 67-year-old Seeley resident Marc Brooks said on Wednesday morning.
Although Dr. Munday said there is still a requirement that the unvaccinated wear masks in certain situations, there is a trust factor involved and not all are sure how that will play out.
“I went shopping yesterday and I was so relieved to see people mostly still wearing masks,” said Jean Glass, 38, of Holtville. “I have kids I can’t get vaccinated yet, so it’s a little nerve wracking to have to trust that people are honest on whether they were vaccinated or not.”
That has been a question throughout the run-up to Tuesday. It was no secret that some masking would be “required” of the public and the business sector, but how will that be enforced.
According to state Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s emergency temporary standards, in an employment setting, everyone has to wear masks and practice social distancing regardless of vaccination status, Munday said. Those restrictions were set to be discussed at a meeting Thursday, June 17, to see whether they will be loosened.
“It’s a little bit confusing now as they haven’t moved at the same pace, but we’re going to continue to share messaging and guidance to help people understand what is required and what the recommendations are,” he said. “And things are going to be a little bit different for businesses instead of just the regular public.”
That’s easy for employees in a workplace setting, but how will members of the public be held to account when entering those businesses?
Enforcement of regulations is going to be up to the individual businesses, according to Imperial County Public Health Director Janette Angulo.
Gyms are a good example of this, Angulo said during an interview on Wednesday morning, June 16.
“A gym, the business itself, is subject to CalOSHA and (California Department of Public Health) guidance. So CDPH guidance says … there’s a couple of different ways that you can verify whether or not an individual has been vaccinated,” Angulo said. There’s a process “where the individual self attests, so that you’re in compliance prior to entry, or require proof of vaccination. …”
The central point is, the onus of responsibility is on the business, and how they choose to operate is based on a set of options prescribed by the state.
In some places, like healthcare settings, long-term care facilities, public transit and correctional facilities, people are still required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, Dr. Munday said. However, he added that fully vaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear masks in crowd settings, indoors or outside, to align more with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final COVID-19 vaccination. For Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, it’s after the second dose, and for Johnson & Johnson, it’s after their single dose.
For those not vaccinated, masks will still be required in most indoor settings outside one’s home and in outdoor settings when someone cannot keep six feet distance from others.
Masks are required for all at “mega events” — those drawing crowds of more than 5,000 people, Munday said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom rescinded the state’s stay-at-home order, ended capacity restrictions, and stopped the tier system for counties this week as well.
“Good morning, California,” Newsom said in a Tuesday tweet. “It’s reopening day. We’ve administered over 40 million vaccines. Now … No more social distancing. No more capacity limits. No more colors or county tiers. And if you’re vaccinated — no more masks. It’s a good day.”
Tuesday’s changes were not exclusive to the business sector or gatherings. Public health reporting saw changes as well.
Tracking of COVID-19 cases will look different, Angulo said. The last update to the state’s metrics dashboard was June 15, and the local Imperial County Public Health Department dashboard will start displaying case and positivity rates that are now updated weekly.
Angulo explained that the state doing away with the tiered system makes it unnecessary to report adjusted data. What you see is all straight from the county numbers now.
According to the most recent data for May 30 through June 5, new cases per day per 100,000 people in Imperial County came in at 3.3, according to Angulo’s presentation to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on June 15. The positivity rate was 2.4 percent.
The county has also retired its vaccination dashboard, instead opting to utilize the state’s vaccination dashboard, she said. The state has an interactive map with vaccinations by zip code. A total of 68.1 percent of Imperial County residents age 12 and older have at least one dose of the vaccine, and 52.1 percent are fully vaccinated. By zip code, Calexico and Ocotillo are both above 70 percent fully vaccinated.
Nearly all county of Imperial government offices reopened for limited walk-up service starting on Tuesday. While several county offices have remained open during the pandemic, the expanded reopening is due to the rapid decrease of COVID-19 cases and restrictions lifted throughout the state, according to a press release from the county.
Safety protocols will be required when visiting and all visitors, including those who are fully vaccinated, will be required to wear masks inside county facilities. Offices will initially reopen with limited capacity and each department will maintain its own schedule.
These plans are subject to change depending on state guidelines and local health orders. The county will do its best to continue to keep the public informed of any changes.
It’s going to be a mix of attitudes moving forward, because Public Health officials acknowledge that some people in this country and in the Valley were very resistant of any restrictions.
Likewise, due to how hard-hit Imperial County was by COVID-19, there is a certain amount of trepidation moving forward. Through the 15 months of the pandemic, some 738 people in Imperial County have died.
“No person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participating in anything in any activity, any entry into business, etc. Bottom line is, we are still tracking cases, there’s still transmission. The virus is still here with us, and we are still encouraging our community to take all those needed prevention measures, and to not let their guard down,” Angulo said on Wednesday.
“We are vigilant, we still have all those same programs in place as far as the Public Health Department. So, we still have epidemiology running, we still have our education, our communication team going,” she said. “We still continue to prepare and plan for anything that may be coming down the line.”
And for some in the private sector, they, too, understand that the public might need an easy touch.
“While at work, I’m in and out of people’s houses and will continue to wear a mask,” said Daniel Jones, owner of Jones Brothers Glass Co. in El Centro. “You never know what you’re getting into, or if the person you had contact with cares as much as you do about disinfecting and washing hands.”
Richard Montenegro Brown contributed reporting to this story.