Will California drop its outdoor mask mandate? What CDC changes mean for the Bay Area

ByAlix Martichoux and Kate Larsen KGO logo
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Will CA drop its mask mandate? How CDC changes affect Bay Area
It looks like the rules will be changing here in California, but the details are still a bit murky. Here's what we know so far.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The Centers for Disease Control loosened its mask guidance Tuesday, saying vaccinated Americans don't need to wear face coverings outdoors unless they're in a crowd. Even unvaccinated Americans are now being advised that they don't need a mask when doing certain things outdoors, like walking, jogging or biking.

But California and especially the nine Bay Area counties have tended to play it safer than the federal government throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Will we see the rules on wearing a mask outdoors loosen here?

In short, it looks like the answer is yes -- soon. When? That's not exactly clear.

"We have reviewed and support the CDC's new masking recommendations and are working quickly to align California's guidance with these common sense updates," said California Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón.

We reached out to every Bay Area county health department and so far, they all say they'll go along with the state's new health order, whenever it is amended. Even ultra-strict San Francisco, which at one point required people wear a face covering anytime they were within 30 feet of someone outside their household, said it's planning to follow the state's forthcoming directive.

How would aligning with CDC guidelines change California's mask mandate? Right now, Californians are required to wear a mask anytime they're outside their home unless they are:

  • In a car alone or with members of their household
  • Working in a room or office alone
  • Actively eating or drinking
  • Outdoors and able to stay 6 feet away from people not in their household (though they should have face coverings on hand in case people get closer than 6 feet away)
  • Temporarily removing their face covering to receive a service on their face (like a facial or a teeth cleaning, for example)
  • Exempt from wearing a face covering due to their age or a medical condition

The CDC guidelines would make it so vaccinated Americans do not have to wear a mask:

  • Walking or exercising outdoors with members of their household
  • Attending small outdoor gatherings with other people (both vaccinated and unvaccinated)
  • Dining at outdoor restaurants, even with people from other households

The CDC guidelines would make it so unvaccinated Americans do not have to wear a mask:

  • Walking or exercising outdoors with members of their household
  • Attending small outdoor gatherings with other people who are vaccinated

"People who have been vaccinated are able do a broader range of things without masks safely than people who have not been vaccinated," said Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco's acting health officer.

Philip is responsible for enacting health orders. After careful interpretation, she expects San Francisco to adopt the new CDC guidelines within the next few days.

"In terms of being stricter, we can do that and we have done that, but we can't be less loose," she said. "So we do have to wait for the state to change its orders before we can officially change our orders in San Francisco."

Phillip said it's still important for people to carry a mask with them at all times, even when they're outside and not actively wearing it.

"This transient passing of people is not a risk for transmission. It really is if you are stopping and having a prolonged conversation and it's someone you don't know and you don't know their vaccination status, that would be a time to pull the mask up."

As for a place like a playground, Phillip said kids who are too young to be vaccinated should wear a mask. However, if the child is alone on the playground or only with other members of their household, they can remove their mask. If there are other people on the playground, Phillip said it's important that everyone keep their mask on, even vaccinated adults.

The CDC says when there's a crowd outside, like at a concert or sports event, vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike, should wear their mask.

VACCINE TRACKER: How California is doing, when you can get a coronavirus vaccine

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