California drops indoor mask mandate: What to know, what's different in the Bay Area

Children will still be required to keep their masks on at school, though California will reassess that on Feb. 28.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- California health officials have lifted the statewide COVID-19 indoor mask mandate in public settings for vaccinated people. Children, however, are still required to keep their masks on at school for at least another two weeks.

Health & Human Services Agency Sec. Dr. Mark Ghaly announced Monday in a press conference that the state will reassess the current mask requirement for schools on Feb. 28.

Most Bay Area counties, with the exception of Santa Clara Co., are following the state's lead and lift their indoor mask mandates as omicron cases decrease.

Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and the City of Berkeley will lifted the universal mask requirements for most indoor public settings.

RELATED: Mask mandate to remain in place for CA schools as guidelines lift for other indoor activities

Officials argued that COVID's spread has also waned significantly across the region and that relaxing mask requirements is part of a shift toward a "new normal" of living with the virus rather than attempting to snuff out its spread completely.

"We are able to take this next major step of removing the universal indoor mask requirement because we have laid a strong foundation in good public health protections -- especially vaccines and boosters -- and know we can reduce severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths," Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Ori Tzvieli said.

RELATED: Mask mandates to be lifted in almost all of Bay Area

Santa Clara County Health Director Sara Cody disagrees.

"We're taking a different course in Santa Clara County in that we are continuing to follow our data and metrics to tell us when it's appropriate to lift," she said. "So that's the difference."

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The CDC has said cloth masks are not that effective against omicron, but Dr. Cody said residents in her county still need this protection.

"Masks are very important additional layer and have been throughout the pandemic," she said. "We need to layer up, need many layers in place when there's a lot of COVID circulating right now. We are still at the high levels of community transmission, we are in the CDC red, and that's why we are still requiring masks indoors."

In summary:


  • When - The California indoor mask mandate expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. In the Bay Area, Santa Clara County will not follow the state's lead.

  • Kids - Unvaccinated individuals over age 2 will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings.

  • Business operators - Businesses, venue operators and hosts may determine their own paths forward to protect staff and patrons and may choose to require all patrons to wear masks.

  • Where masks are still required - Indoor masking is still required in California for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in public transportation; health care settings; congregate settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters; long term care facilities; and in K-12 schools and childcare settings.

  • Strongly recommended by the state- Masks still strongly recommended; vaccines and boosters urged to further strengthen defenses.

RELATED: Travelers coming into CA should make COVID testing part of their travel plans, state recommends

Here's some guidance from the state of California on current mask recommendations and requirements.

Full list of where masks are still required:


  • Public transit

  • Healthcare settings (including long term care facilities)

  • Adult and senior care facilities

  • Indoors in K-12 schools, childcare, and other youth settings

  • State and local correctional facilities and detention centers

  • Homeless shelters, emergency shelters, and cooling centers

Masks are required for unvaccinated people and recommended for everyone in:


  • Places of worship

TOP QUESTIONS


When are masks exempt in the places that still require masking?


  • Children under two years old are exempt at all times, due to the risk of suffocation.

  • Those with the following conditions are also exempt: a medical condition or mental health condition disability that precludes wearing a mask. This includes those for whom a mask could obstruct breathing, who are unconscious or incapacitated, unable to remove a mask without assistance.

  • People for whom seeing the mouth is essential for communication - hearing impaired or those communicating with a person who is hearing impaired.

  • People for whom wearing a mask would create a risk as they work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators, or workplace safety guidelines.

How effective are cloth masks?


Face masks can help slow the spread of coronavirus and single layer cloth masks are the least effective, unless they are layered, preferably with three or more. Here is a list of masks recommended by the California government.

Most effective:

  • N95

More effective:

  • KF94

  • KN95

  • Double mask

  • Fitted surgical mask

Effective:

  • Surgical mask

Least effective:

  • Cloth mask with three or more layers

Whatever mask you wear, make sure it fits to your face closely and without gaps.

Do employers need to provide masks for unvaccinated workers?


Yes. The state requires employers to provide unvaccinated employees with NIOSH-certified respirator masks for voluntary use when working indoors, or in a vehicle with others.

Unvaccinated workers must wear masks in state offices.

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