Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that California could significantly ease its mask mandates in the coming weeks as COVID-19 cases continue to decline and vaccinations increase.

State health officials have not offered guidance, but Newsom said it could come soon.

On June 15, when the state is slated to reopen its economy, “we’ll move beyond the blueprint and we’ll be in a completely different space,” Newsom said. “We will be updating our mask guidelines, outdoor masking, if we reach that threshold where we hope to be. ... In fact, it will be eliminated, those mandates. They’ll be guidelines or recommendations.

“But for indoor activities, we will still have, likely, some mask guidelines and mandates. But we hope, sooner than later, that those will be lifted as well,” Newsom said at a press conference.

In an interview with Fox 11 News a day earlier, Newsom said California after June 15 will look similar to pre-pandemic times.

“That world looks a lot like the world we entered into before the pandemic,” he said. “We’re not wearing face coverings. We’re not restricted in any way, shape or form of doing the old things that we used to do,” with the exception of large-scale indoor events, for which he said “common sense” will still be required.

“Otherwise, we’ll make guidance, recommendations, but no mandates … and no restrictions in businesses large and small,” he said.

Newsom’s comment comes amid growing debate about how much longer mask mandates should remain as the country – and California especially – recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are growing calls to ease the rules.

“We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

But Fauci also said the country was averaging about 43,000 coronavirus cases daily and noted that “we’ve got to get it much, much lower than that” to effectively reduce the risk from the virus.

When the case count drops lower, he said, “the risk of any infection – indoor or outdoor – diminishes dramatically.”

Fauci’s statements were, in part, a response to comments Sunday by Dr. Scott Gottlieb on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” The former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said the country was “at a point now where we could start lifting these ordinances and allowing people to resume normal activity.”

Gottlieb said outdoor mask restrictions should be lifted and indoor restrictions could begin to be loosened in states where prevalence of the coronavirus is low, vaccination rates are high and testing is successfully identifying infections.

The larger conversation around face masks came just days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 science brief to emphasize the virus’ airborne transmissibility.

Transmission occurs in three main ways, the agency affirmed, including the inhalation of aerosol particles; deposition of virus droplets onto mucous membranes such as the mouth, nose and eyes; and touching mucous membranes with “soiled hands contaminated with the virus.”

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, said the CDC’s update was not new information but that it was a “reinforcement that some settings are much riskier than others,” including indoor gatherings.

And although there is some consensus around outdoor rules, Chin-Hong said, it may be too soon to throw masks off completely while indoors.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said. “Even if you are vaccinated, the more people you bring together, the higher the chance of nonresponders getting together where they can transmit.... The larger the group, the higher the chance that two people didn’t get protection.”

He also noted that many people might continue to wear masks out of habit or for personal reasons that have nothing to do with COVID-19.

“Essentially, it’s one thing that we have control over in the pandemic,” he said. “And if, at the end of the day, we have better acceptance of people wearing masks to protect other people when they have a cold or something, I’m all for that.”

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