Since Thanksgiving, COVID-19 case rates in the state are up by almost 50% — fueled by the spread of the delta and omicron variants — alerting health officials of a potential winter surge. And in terms of transmission, California ranks high among all states, indicating a quick spread throughout our communities.
The good news is vaccination and booster numbers are also increasing. In pairing more vaccines with more public masking, we can all do our part to protect ourselves and each other this holiday season.
Here are six things to know about the new California mask mandate:
- It’s temporary.
The mask mandate is effective from December 15, 2021, through February 17, 2022.
- It’s required regardless of vaccination status.
Even if you’ve received your COVID-19 vaccine and booster, you are still required to wear a mask in public indoor spaces. While vaccines are your best defense against the coronavirus, breakthrough cases are possible — and the mandate aims to protect Californians as the holidays bring an increase in travel and indoor gatherings.
- It doesn’t apply to private gatherings.
The mask mandate applies to indoor public spaces only. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains its recommendations for private indoor gatherings — which include masking for those who are unvaccinated, staying home if you are sick, and considering a COVID-19 test prior to getting together.
- It’s effective.
Universal masking requirements have proven to decrease the rate of COVID-19 infections, in addition to slowing the community spread. Health officials credit masking, in addition to a number of other precautions, with allowing the state to successfully keep schools open. California accounts for 12% of all students in the U.S. but only 1% of COVID-related school closures.
- It has exceptions.
The mask mandate applies to everyone. However, individuals are exempt if they are age 2 or younger, have certain medical conditions, are hearing impaired or have a job that mask wearing would pose a risk. Those who are exempt should still follow standard precautions, such as maintaining a 6-foot distance when possible, avoiding crowded spaces, frequently washing hands and staying home when they are sick.
- It’s only one layer in protecting ourselves against COVID-19.
While masking in indoor public settings can help slow the spread of COVID-19, getting vaccinated is still the most effective way to protect yourself and others. The County of San Diego is currently vaccinating individuals age 5 and older and offering boosters for those age 12 and older.
The mask mandate will mark a lifestyle change here in San Diego, as our community hasn’t experienced one since June 15. Yet it is through combined efforts like this one that we will keep ourselves and our community safe — and forge a way through the pandemic together.
This article was updated in January 2022.