Face-Coverings-QA Face Coverings Questions & Answers

Face Coverings Questions & Answers

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Updates as of September 29, 2022:

  • Shifts from a strong recommendation for the general population, in all indoor settings at all times to use of CDC Community Levels to help inform masking recommendations, which is consistent with August 11th CDC updated recommendations.
  • Aligns correctional facilities with current CDC recommendations (CDC updated guidance on May 3rd), which notes that correctional facilities may make masks optional when CDC community levels are low. 
  • Aligns recommendations for homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers to the above recommendation for correctional facilities, i.e., also shifts from requirements to masking recommendations in these settings when CDC community levels are low.

The risk for COVID-19 exposure and infection in our communities will continue in California, and there will continue to be times and places that masks will help protect us from serious outcomes and significant community impact, especially in populations heavily impacted by COVID-19. Continued use of masks helps prevent COVID-19 transmission among people with higher risk of serious disease from 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 Non-Emergency Regulations​  or in some workplaces the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases Standard (PDF) and should consult those regulations for additional applicable requirements.

Local health jurisdictions and entities may continue to implement additional requirements that go beyond this statewide guidance based on local circumstances.

Questions & Answers

Why are we issuing updated mask guidance now?

Masks that offer the best fit and filtration (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) remain a critical component of our multi-layered approach for protection against COVID-19 infection. Consistent with the SMARTER Plan, California is shifting its masking recommendations to a framework intended to provide information and recommendations that each Californian should consider based on the unique circumstances happening within their own community and county. Californians are recommended to inform their decisions on which prevention behaviors to use and when using the table in the Guidance for Face Coverings, which is based on CDC COVID-19 Community Levels released in March 2022 and metrics based on California's historical data. 

Are there still places people still have to wear masks?

Masks are required for all individuals in the following high risk indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status, when and where indicated. Respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) or surgical masks with good fit are highly recommended.

In the following healthcare settings, universal masking of all staff and residents continues, regardless of vaccination status and Community Level.

In the following non-healthcare indoor settings, masking may be optional when:

  1. The COVID-19 Community Level is low, and;

  2. There have been no outbreaks (defined as three suspected, probable, or confirmed COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period among epidemiologically linked residents and/or staff) in the entire facility or within separated, closed subunits that do not allow for mixing of those residents or staff with the general population.

When the COVID-19 Community Level is medium or high, facilities must maintain or reinstate universal masking requirements for all staff and residents, regardless if there are no outbreaks within the facility.   

Universal masking of all staff and residents, regardless of vaccination status and Community Level, is required in all clinical areas (or when any healthcare is being delivered), including isolation and quarantine areas, or any other areas that are covered by other specified high-risk settings. 

Facilities should make surgical masks or higher-level respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) with good fit available at all times to any residents and staff who would like to use them based on their personal preference.

Local health jurisdictions and entities may continue to implement additional requirements that go beyond this statewide guidance based on local circumstances.

If many people are vaccinated, why is it still recommended to wear face coverings?

While the percentage of Californians who have completed a primary series and are 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. We also continue to learn more about waning immunity and need to be prepared for future variants. Masks also remain a critical component for protecting those that are most vulnerable in our communities, including the unvaccinated, the immunocompromised, or those at risk for severe disease and illness.

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

After March 11, the universal masking requirement for K–12 and Childcare settings moved to a strong recommendation that individuals in these settings continue to mask in these indoor settings. See K–12 Guidance for additional information. Additional guidance, including additional requirements, may be issued by local public health officials, local educational agencies, and/or other authorities.

For additional information on types of masks for children, the most effective masks, and ensuring a well-fitted mask, individuals should refer to CDPH Masks for Kids: Tips and Resources.

When must unvaccinated people wear masks?

Everyone must continue to comply with all masking requirements in the high-risk settings listed above, when and where indicated.

In addition, in the general community, everyone is recommended to make informed masking decisions based on the CDC COVID-19 Community Levels as described in the table in the Guidance for Face Coverings.

For additional information on types of masks, the most effective masks, and ensuring a well-fitted mask, individuals should refer to CDPH Get the Most out of Masking.

Does this guidance apply to persons who have not completed a primary series (persons who have only received one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine)?

Yes, all persons regardless of vaccination status must continue to comply with all masking requirements in the high-risk settings listed above, when and where indicated.

Are masks required in workplaces?

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

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, this guidance applies to colleges and universities.

Does this guidance apply to visitors in healthcare settings, correctional facilities and detention centers?

Yes, visitors (regardless of vaccination status) must  continue to comply with all masking requirements in the high-risk settings listed above, when and where indicated. 

Do "health care settings" where universal masking is required of all individuals include outpatient facilities and assisted living facilities?

Yes, health care settings refers to places where healthcare is delivered and includes, but is not limited to, acute care facilities, long-term acute-care facilities, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, home healthcare, vehicles where healthcare is delivered (e.g., mobile clinics), and outpatient facilities, such as dialysis centers, physician offices, dental offices, and others.

Are face coverings required in non-patient care areas (e.g., meeting or break rooms) in Health Care Settings?

Masks are required in health care settings, including in non-patient care areas. However, per the exception listed below, persons who are working alone in a closed office or room are exempt from the masking requirement.

In non-high risk settings, does anyone need to continue to wear masks outdoors?

People do not need to wear masks when outdoors.

What if masks cannot be worn due to heavy exertion while playing indoor sports, exercising, or conditioning, or while performing at indoor live or recorded settings or events such as music, acting, or singing?

Indoor mask use remains an effective layer in protecting against COVID-19 infection and transmission, including during sports, music, and related activities, especially activities with increased exertion and/or voice projection, or prolonged close face-face contact. Accordingly, when actively practicing, conditioning, performing, or competing indoors, masks are strongly recommended by participants even during heavy exertion, as practicable. Individuals using instruments indoors that cannot be played with a mask (e.g., wind instruments) are strongly recommended to use bell coverings and maintain a minimum of 3 feet of physical distancing between participants. If masks are not worn (or bell covers are not used) due to heavy exertion, it is strongly recommended that individuals undergo screening testing at least once weekly, unless they had COVID-19 in the past 90 days. An FDA-authorized antigen test, PCR test, or pooled PCR test is acceptable for evaluation of an individual's COVID-19 status.

In situations where surgical masks are required for source control, can higher-level respirators (e.g., KN95s, KF94s, or N95s) be voluntarily used instead of surgical masks?

Yes, in situations where surgical masks are required for source control, voluntary use of a higher-level respirator (e.g., KN95s, KF94s, or N95s) is also acceptable. This does not supersede any requirements for use of a respirator under Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Non-Emergency Regulations​​ or ATD.​

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 masking requirements in specified high-risk settings apply in the following circumstances:

  • Masks may be removed while actively eating or drinking.
  • Persons who are working alone in a closed office or room.
  • Persons who are obtaining a medical, dental or cosmetic service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the services.
  • Persons or providers (which may include Applied Behavior Analysis therapists) who are obtaining or providing a speech, occupational or language therapy session where temporary removal of the mask to facilitate appropriate and timely treatment of the speech, occupational or language disorder is necessary, as determined by the therapy provider. Masks should immediately be replaced when not actively receiving or providing such therapy services, including while in waiting rooms.
  • Workers who wear respiratory protection, per Cal/OSHA 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 can businesses support patrons and help protect their communities?

CDPH is maintaining the requirement that businesses and venue operators must allow any individual to wear a mask if they desire to. No person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a business.

In addition, when CDC COVID-19 Community levels are medium or high, businesses, venue operators or hosts should consider:

  • Providing information to all patrons, guests and attendees regarding masking recommendations for all persons, regardless of vaccine status.
  • Providing information to all patrons, guests and attendees to consider better fit and filtration for masks [Respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) or surgical masks with good fit are recommended over cloth masks].
  • Requiring all patrons to wear masks, when risk in the community may be high, or if those being served are at high-risk for severe disease or illness.
  • Requiring attendees who do not provide proof of vaccination to enter indoor Mega Events to continue masking during the event, especially when not actively eating or drinking.

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

A business may post a sign or placard at the entrance to their business notifying customers of their 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.

What is the definition of an outbreak and what are the reporting requirements?

For current definitions of outbreaks and reporting requirements, please refer to the Non-Healthcare Congregate Facilities COVID-19 Outbreak Definitions and Reporting Guidance for Local Health Departments.

If I test positive for COVID-19, when should I wear a mask?

It is strongly recommended that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, previous infection or lack of symptoms stay home for at least five days, and wear a well-fitting mask when around others for a total of 10 days, especially in indoor settings when testing positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation. See CDPH Isolation and Quarantine Guidance for additional information.

If I was exposed to COVID-19, when should I wear a mask?

It is strongly recommended that everyone, regardless of vaccination status or whether in quarantine or not, wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days, especially in indoor settings, after exposure to someone with COVID-19. See CDPH Isolation and Quarantine Guidance for additional information.

Originally Published on June 14, 2021​​​