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Mask required for only unvaccinated in public settings

The California Department of Public Health issued a statement last week that the universal masking shall remain required in only specified settings.

The statement also said fully vaccinated individuals are not required to wear a mask indoors. However, it is recommended to continue indoor masking when the risk may be high. Unvaccinated person are still required to mask in all indoor public settings.

These changes go into effect Feb. 16.

Masks are required for all individuals in the following indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. Surgical masks or higher-level respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) with good fit are highly recommended.

• On public transit (examples: airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares) and in transportation hubs (examples: airport, bus terminal, marina, train station, seaport or other port, subway station, or any other area that provides transportation)

• Indoors in K-12 schools, childcare

• Emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers

• Healthcare settings

• State and local correctional facilities and detention centers

• Homeless shelters

• Long Term Care Settings & Adult and Senior Care Facilities

Additionally, masks are required for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses (examples: retail, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers, meetings, state and local government offices serving the public). Fully vaccinated individuals are recommended to continue indoor masking when the risk may be high. Surgical masks or higher-level respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) with good fit are highly recommended.


COVID-19 cases and hospitalization are declining across the state. This is due in large part to the collective efforts of Californians to get vaccinated, get boosted, and wear masks.

A universal indoor masking requirement was reinstated on Dec. 15, 2021, to add a layer of mitigation as the Omicron variant, a Variant of Concern as labeled by the World Health Organization, increased in prevalence across California, the United States, and the world and spread much more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant. Implementing the universal masking requirement in all indoor public settings during the winter season was an important tool to decrease community transmission during the highly infectious Omicron surge.

The current hospital census is still over capacity, but the dramatic surge in cases and hospitalizations due to the highly infectious Omicron variant over the last two months has declined significantly. Californians are also increasingly knowledgeable about how to protect themselves and their loved ones with effective masks when there may be risk of COVID-19 exposure. Accordingly, it is now appropriate for the universal indoor masking requirement to expire on Feb. 15, 2022, as scheduled.

The COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in preventing serious disease, hospitalization, and death from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Unvaccinated individuals are much more likely to become infected when compared to vaccinated and boosted individuals. Vaccination continues to remain the ultimate exit strategy out of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the percentage of Californians fully vaccinated and boosted continues to increase, we continue to have areas of the state where vaccine coverage is low, putting individuals and communities at greater risk for COVID-19.

A series of cross-sectional surveys in the U.S. suggested that a 10 percent increase in self-reported mask wearing tripled the likelihood of slowing community transmission. Our recently published case-control study conducted in California from Feb. 18 to Dec. 1, 2021 demonstrated that consistently wearing a face mask or respirator in indoor public settings reduces the risk of acquiring SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The masking requirement in California schools has allowed us to keep schools open when compared to other parts of the country. California accounts for roughly 12 percent of all U.S. students, but accounted for only one percent of COVID-19 related school closures during the Omicron surge. Nationally during the Delta surge in July and Aug. 2021, jurisdictions without mask requirements in schools experienced larger increases in pediatric case rates, and school outbreaks were 3.5 times more likely in areas without school mask requirements.

Maintaining the masking requirements in other specified, high-risk settings continues to be consistent with CDC recommendations and allows us to protect our most vulnerable populations and the workforce that delivers critical services in these settings.

In workplaces, employers are subject to the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) or in some workplaces the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) (PDF) Standard and should consult those regulations for additional applicable requirements.


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