CDC vs. SF: The 1 mask rule that's stricter in San Francisco

ByAlix Martichoux and Lyanne Melendez KGO logo
Friday, May 7, 2021
CDC vs. SF: 1 mask rule that's stricter in San Francisco
The CDC and San Francisco agree on all but one thing when it comes to when you need to wear a mask and when you don't.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's been over a week since the Centers for Disease Control announced people can start taking off their masks outdoors. But if you take a quick walk around San Francisco, you'll still see more masked faces than not.

There seems to be a bit of confusion about how San Francisco's rules compare to the new CDC guidelines. Here's how it breaks down.

When you don't have to wear a mask: Where the CDC and SF agree

If you are walking, bicycling, running, standing or otherwise exercising outdoors, you no longer have to wear a mask. This goes for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

"You will no longer need to pull up your mask when simply passing others by on a sidewalk or trail as the transient passing of people is not a risk of transmission," says the guidance from the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

People who are fully vaccinated, meaning it's been two weeks since your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or since your single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, have even more scenarios where they don't have to wear a mask anymore. Vaccinated people can take off masks while outdoor dining, even with friends and family from different households, says the city. They also don't have to wear mask while at social gatherings with friends who are also fully vaccinated -- both indoors and outdoors.

When you still have to wear a mask outdoors (and where SF is more strict than the CDC)

Both the CDC and San Francisco agree that large gatherings still pose a risk, so masks are still required at sporting events and outdoor concerts. San Francisco stipulates that at any gathering where there are more than 300 people, masks are still required for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

But here's where San Francisco has an added layer of protection for people who aren't fully vaccinated. If you cannot maintain six feet of distance from others, and you're stopping or lingering in the area, you should put a mask on.

Here's how this would play out in real life: If you're going on a walk and you're unvaccinated, you don't need a mask. But say you bump into someone you know and you stop to chat for a while. That's when you should put your mask on, just to be safe.

So if people are allowed to take off their masks in most outdoor settings, why aren't they?

This is a different question altogether. Firstly, there may be some level of confusion. After all, San Francisco has been much more cautious than other California counties and certainly most other states when it comes to COVID-19 guidance. For about a week, San Franciscans were left in limbo while the city decided how it would align with the new CDC rules.

Some people told us they fear being judged as an anti-masker.

"I just want to hold up a sign that's like, 'I'm vaccinated! Don't worry, I'm OK,'" says Kaysee Young, a San Francisco resident.

There's also people's personal preference, of course. Just because you can take your mask, definitely doesn't mean you have to.

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