SAN FRANCISCO — A statewide indoor mask mandate was reinstated Wednesday in California, and in San Diego County, residents are expected to wear a face covering in all indoor public places — vaccinated or not.
But that’s not the case in some Northern California counties, which received exemptions to the new statewide rules.
San Francisco and other regions that already had indoor mask requirements were given special permission to stick with the local rules that they were already operating under. Those existing orders have more flexibility than the new statewide mandate, meaning residents went from living under the strictest policies to actually having a bit more leeway than other Californians.
In San Francisco, for example, the city has eased its indoor mask requirements to allow people to remove face coverings in settings where 100% of those present are vaccinated. Those settings, which include workspaces, churches and gyms, cannot contain more than 100 people and are required to meet a variety of other coronavirus safety standards.
The county will be allowed to continue that policy, despite there being no such exemptions in California’s order, which is in place until at least Jan. 15.
Contra Costa County and Marin County will also be allowed to keep similar policies in place.
For areas like San Diego that fall under the state’s rules, these are the only listed exemptions:
- 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.
Officials with the California Department of Public Health say they reissued the mandate because the state has seen an overall rise in COVID-19 cases since Thanksgiving and is still learning about the omicron variant.
At this time, health officials don’t know if it causes more severe illness than other COVID-19 variants, but it appears to be spreading more easily than the original coronavirus strain, the CDC says.
Aside from the omicron variant, the state says the mandate generally provides protection for people as indoor holiday gatherings and travel ramp up.
Though the mask mandate applies to even vaccinated people, health officials continue to urge residents to get their COVID-19 shots. Unvaccinated people were 7.1 times more likely to get COVID-19 in California health department data from Nov. 21-27, 2021.
Vaccinated people are also much less likely to suffer severe symptoms of the illness when they do get sick, according to the CDC.