Face-Coverings-QA Face Coverings Q&A

Face Coverings Q&A

Updates as of December 15, 2021:

  • To reflect places of worship and workplace settings.

The risk for COVID-19 exposure and infection will remain in California until we reach community immunity with vaccinations, especially in communities heavily impacted by COVID-19. Continued use of face coverings helps prevent COVID-19 transmission among people with higher risk of infection (those who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised), those with prolonged, cumulative exposures, and individuals whose vaccination status is unknown.

California has updated its Masking Guidance, to ensure that we continue to collectively protect the health and well-being of all Californians; keep schools open for in-person instruction; and allow California's economy to remain open and thrive.

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 Standard (PDF), and should consult those regulations for additional applicable requirements.

Questions & Answers

Why are we issuing an updated mask mandate now?

This new measure brings an added layer of mitigation as the Omicron variant, a Variant of Concern as labeled by the World Health Organization, is detected across California, the United States, and the world and is likely to spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant. Additionally, this new measure brings additional protection to individuals, families and communities during the holidays when more travel occurs, and time is spent indoors. Vaccines remain the best protection against COVID-19 and its variants. We urge all eligible to get vaccinated, as it is the most important thing we can do to help end this pandemic.

Does this impact existing local masking requirements?

The updated CDPH guidance only applies to those local health jurisdictions that do not already have an existing indoor masking requirement in public settings that applies irrespective of individuals' vaccine status. For local health jurisdictions that had pre-existing masking requirements irrespective of vaccine status, in indoor public settings, prior to December 13, 2021, those local health orders continue to apply. Local health jurisdictions must either follow current CDPH guidance, or adopt a local order described above that was in effect prior to December 13, 2021.

When will this CDPH requirement end?

To ensure that we collectively protect the health and well-being of all Californians; keep schools open for in-person instruction; and allow California's economy to remain open and thrive, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is requiring masks to be worn in all indoor public settings, irrespective of vaccine status, for the next four weeks (December 15, 2021 through January 15, 2022) in jurisdictions where the local health department does not have an existing indoor mask mandate.

Do fully vaccinated people also have to wear masks?

Yes, the updated guidance requires all individuals to wear a mask in all indoor public settings where the updated guidance applies, regardless of vaccination status. In certain settings, well-fitted surgical masks or respirators are also recommended. See full CDPH Masking Guidance for more information.

If many people are vaccinated, why are we requiring everyone to wear a mask?

The risk for COVID-19 exposure and infection will remain until we reach community immunity from vaccinations, especially in communities heavily impacted by COVID-19.

Are children required to wear masks indoors in K-12 schools and childcare settings?

Refer to the CDPH K-12 Guidance for indoor masking requirements in school-based settings and the CDPH Childcare Providers and Programs Guidance for children under 5 in childcare settings. The December 15th updated CDPH guidance does not change K-12 masking requirements.

Does this guidance apply to all workplaces?

Yes, the guidance applies to all workplaces, regardless of whether they serve the public, or are open to the public.  Masks may be removed, per the exemption noted below, if the workplace consists of a single employee, or may be removed while an employee is  alone in a closed office or room.  

Do "indoor public settings" include local board and commission meetings?

Yes, board and commission meetings are indoor public settings.

Does this guidance apply to colleges and universities?

Yes, all students, staff and faculty are required to wear a mask in all indoor public settings.

Do visitors in healthcare settings, correctional facilities and detention centers also need to wear a mask?

Yes, all persons (vaccinated and unvaccinated) must wear a mask when visiting a healthcare facility, a long-term care facility (like a skilled-nursing facility), a correctional facility or a detention center. See State Public Health Officer Order issued July 26, 2021 for a full list of health facilities and high-risk congregate settings where masks are required of everyone.

Does anyone need to continue to wear masks outdoors?

In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. However, per CDC recommendations, in areas of substantial to high transmission, people who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.

Will unvaccinated children and youth be required or recommended to wear a mask during recess outdoors if they cannot maintain physical distancing?

In general, unvaccinated children and youth do not need to wear a mask outdoors, even if they cannot maintain physical distancing. However, per CDC recommendations, in areas of substantial to high transmission, people who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact (including high-risk contact sports) with other people who are not fully vaccinated.

Does the new requirement that vaccinated individuals wear masks in indoor public places apply to attendees at religious worship services at places of worship?

No, but vaccinated attendees at religious worship services held indoors at places of worship are strongly recommended to wear masks in such settings.  This does not alter the requirement that has been in effect since June 15, 2021 that unvaccinated individuals wear masks in indoor public places.

What if masks cannot be worn due to heavy exertion while playing indoor sports, exercising or conditioning?

Masks are required for all persons, as practicable, while playing all indoor sports, exercising or conditioning. If a mask cannot be worn due to heavy exertion, CDPH strongly recommends that individuals undergo screening testing at least once weekly. An FDA-approved antigen test, PCR test, or pooled PCR test is acceptable for evaluation of an individual's COVID-19 status. Masks, however, must be worn in locker rooms.

Who is exempt from wearing a mask?

The following individuals are exempt from wearing masks at all times:

  • Persons younger than two years old. Very young children must not wear a mask because of the risk of suffocation.
  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a mask could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance.
  • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

Additionally, exceptions to the universal masking requirements apply in the following circumstances in specified settings:

  • Masks may be removed while actively eating or drinking.
  • Persons who are working alone in a closed office or room.
  • Persons who are actively performing at indoor live or recorded settings or events such as music, acting, or singing. If performers do not wear a mask indoors while performing, CDPH strongly recommends that individuals undergo screening testing at least once weekly. An FDA-approved antigen test, PCR test, or pooled PCR test is acceptable for evaluation of an individual's COVID-19 status.
  • Persons who are obtaining a medical or cosmetic service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the services.
  • Workers who wear respiratory protection, per CalOSHA requirements.
  • Persons who are specifically exempted from wearing masks by other CDPH guidance.

What should I do if my mask feels wet or gets saturated with sweat?

Any face mask that feels wet or becomes saturated with sweat should be changed immediately.

How does a business verify if someone meets a masking exemption?

Businesses may deem a customer, guest or attendee to have self-attested that they have met an approved masking exemption, if the business has prominently displayed signage prior to entry explaining the masking requirements for all individuals to wear a mask and the individual enters the business premises without wearing a mask.

No person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a business.

How would a business provide information to their customers about mask requirements?

A business may post a sign or placard at the entrance to their business notifying customers of the mask requirements. Additionally, businesses may post such information on their website or at point of ticket sale prior to entry or notify their members of masking requirements.

Can I be prevented from wearing a mask?

No person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a business.


​Originally Published on June 14, 2021