California is opening up today and loosening mask restrictions and guidelines for businesses and workplaces.
"Those days are over," said state Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly on CapRadio's Insight. "No more purple, red, orange, yellow tier assignments on Tuesdays, as we've seen for the last many, many months. So that's probably the biggest, most important change that people, I will say, are looking forward to."
The state on June 15, is doing away with virtually all masking and social distancing requirements for vaccinated people in alignment with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks are still required at airports, on public transportation, indoors at K-12 schools and youth settings, healthcare settings, correctional facilities, detention centers and shelters.
CapRadio's Insight Host Vicki Gonzalez spoke with Ghaly about how lifting the state's restrictions will change some regulations around, but keep others the same.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On the workplace rules that are still in limbo
I think the two areas where we will continue to have requirements, if you will, coming from [the California Department of Public Health] and other local public health, really lie around masking in some specific areas ...
My team, our team at CDPH, and a number of others have worked closely with Cal/OSHA throughout the pandemic, and they have always had an independent body guiding where some of those mandates requirements had and have been, and they will continue to do the same. So they are on slightly different timelines.
They have independent processes from ours within the Department of Public Health and Health and Human Services and even at the local level. This is not a new change. It's always been designed this way. And I think it's really benefited California throughout years and years and throughout this pandemic, and right now, will be waiting just a little bit longer to get those final guidelines on workplace and what workers should look forward to as it relates to pandemic requirements that we've seen change throughout some of the general requirements CDPH puts up.
Note: After this interview was recorded, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would expedite rules to allow vaccinated Californians to forgo masks in the workplace if the Cal/OSHA board approves them at their meeting Thursday. Typically those rules would require a 10-day waiting period.
On if California has plateaued in vaccination rates and how the state plans to reach the vaccine-hesitant
I believe that certainly, we won’t see the same kind of long lines that we saw early on at some of our mass vaccination sites with the vaccine, but I do think Californians who still have some questions wanted to see how the vaccines work for not just days and weeks, but a few months, that they’ll come forward and decide to get vaccinated.
There certainly might be some groups of Californians who aren’t interested in getting vaccinated now or in the future, and they may remain that way … I think that as we see areas maybe have an outbreak here and there or a specific setting that will also motivate and encourage people to get vaccinated, so I think that California will be vaccinating people well into the future.
On getting children 12 and older vaccinated in the state
I would start with saying, make sure that you and your young one ask the questions that they have. We know that getting those questions answered is going to be the first thing.
… What we’ve seen is the trials have been really successful with these vaccines. That Pfizer, because it’s the one approved now for the youngest group 12 to 18 group of Californians, that it’s been proven to be safe. It’s been proven to be highly effective, and that even though young people don’t necessarily get as sick and debilitated with COVID, we’re still learning a lot about what the long-term impact of COVID is.
We do see some young people get quite sick, and so if we have a safe tool to prevent that outcome and those issues from happening, we want to encourage as many people to consider it as possible.
On what Ghaly wishes was done differently during the pandemic
A key learning point that we all experienced throughout this pandemic is early, we weren't even sure how this virus transmitted. And over the last year, we've learned a tremendous amount, and I think we still have quite a bit to learn, but we now feel confident that indoor settings are actually more dangerous from a transmission perspective than we thought, and outdoor settings are safer than we thought.
And so our new guidance, our new approach, even in the face of vaccines, kind of manifests that in a way that it wasn't there at the beginning. And I think that's such a critical detail that for those of us who've been part of teams that have wanted to follow the science, follow the data, that evolution in the science has been really critical to our changed approaches. And you remember, even in the winter, fall and winter, we didn't understand this distinction as well as we do now. And we see that manifest in how we're approaching, you know, the next many weeks and months.
On what he's learned over the past 15 months that that can be applied in the event the next pandemic arrives
I think we've said, and we talked about this from the beginning, that the disparities, the underlying inequities, that individuals who live in poverty often face the most brutal realities of things like a global … airborne infectious disease pandemic. And I think that has been very true throughout our nation and here in California.
So if I were creating the pandemic playbook for the future, I would certainly have one of the early chapters be, how do we think about underlying disparities and inequities and how do you address them and approach them so that all Californians go together moving forward and not not some groups more than others.
On the Delta COVID variant and what he's watching for in California
We have seen some of the Delta variant, but like other variants, we are really happy at the moment that [it] seems to respond to the very strong vaccines that we [have] in California and in the United States. I don't think that's the case throughout the globe, that the different variants interact with different vaccines differently. But here in California and across the U.S., it seems these are very durable vaccines against existing variants, including the Delta variant.
But … this is a global disease. The way that variants will spread and take hold is through transmission. And that's the good news about what's happening here in California. With low transmission and a number of Californians vaccinated and protected, we may not see in the near term significant spread and transmission, so those variants won't take hold. But because it's global and because other nations may experience significant transmission, there's still the threat and we'll continue to be on the lookout here in California.
On if COVID will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future and how will that be managed
Yeah, I think there's still a significant amount to learn. As I said, we've been with this just over one full calendar year. And so the trends, the seasonality, sort of what we notice and confirm, not just here in California, but across the nation and the globe, is still to be determined. It would not be surprising if we need vaccine boosters because, as a pediatrician, we give booster shots for a lot of vaccine-preventable illnesses for young people. So this would not be an unusual predicament to be in. It isn't in any way a failure of the vaccines or says something that the COVID strain that we're dealing with is necessarily worse or different, it's just the reality of the human immune system and how vaccines interact with it.
So it will, we all suspect, become a regular part of our lives and our concerns that we will be able to manage this like we do many other infectious diseases. But that interconnectedness around the globe still leaves us with, I would say, many months of determining where we head in the near term with COVID. But I'm really proud to say that I think in California, not only have we dealt with the last year, 15 months, in a really strong and successful way, but we are prepared for what's to come.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.