COVID-19: California Issues Updated Mask Guidance Requiring Masks In All Indoor Locations
Posted December 15, 2021

With COVID-19 cases on the rise once again following the Thanksgiving holiday, California is implementing more stringent mask guidance to protect against a winter surge. For at least the next four weeks, from December 15, 2021 through January 15, 2022, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) will require masks to be worn in all indoor public settings (including indoor workplaces), irrespective of vaccination status.

This updated requirement supersedes the State’s earlier mask guidance. You can find the new requirements here. You also can view the CDPH’s mask-related question and answer series here. For tips on proper masking, click here.

The CDPH notes that this statewide mask requirement is necessary to add an extra layer or two of protection (pun intended) against a possible winter surge of COVID-19, the Omicron variant or other similar variants. According to the State, “Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 47% and hospitalizations have increased by 14% … Implementing a universal masking requirement not only has proven to decrease the rate of infections but is able to slow community transmission. A series of cross-sectional surveys in the U.S. suggested that a 10% increase in self-reported mask wearing tripled the likelihood of slowing community transmission.”

When are the new indoor mask requirements effective?

The newly-updated indoor mask mandate is effective as of Wednesday, December 15, 2021.

What if my employees are vaccinated ... do they have to wear a mask?

Vaccination status does not preclude the obligation to wear a mask indoors. All persons in an indoor location must wear a mask, subject to certain exceptions noted below.

What if members of the public aren't coming into my business ... do we still have to wear masks?

The new mask guidance has no "public access" requirement. The mandate to wear masks indoors applies to all employees in all indoor locations, subject to limited exceptions noted below.

What if I’m outdoors … do I have to wear a mask?

Probably not, but it is a good idea to do so, particularly for unvaccinated persons. The CDPH states, “… people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. However, per CDC recommendations, in areas of substantial to high transmission, people who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.”

Is anyone exempt from wearing a mask?

Yes. “The following individuals are exempt from wearing masks at all times:

  • Persons younger than two years old
  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask
  • 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.”

Remember that these exemptions do not require employers to permit employees to work without masks. For example, persons exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition who are employed in a job involving regular contact with others should wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, as long as their condition permits it. For the rare employee who cannot wear a non-restrictive alternative, considerations such as remote work or a leave of absence may be an appropriate accommodation.

What about exceptions for certain circumstances?

The universal masking requirements do not apply in the following circumstances:

  • Masks may be removed while actively eating or drinking.
  • Persons who are working alone in a closed office or room.
  • Persons who are actively performing at indoor live or recorded settings or events such as music, acting, or singing. If performers do not wear a mask indoors while performing, CDPH strongly recommends that individuals undergo screening testing at least once weekly. An FDA-approved antigen test, PCR test, or pooled PCR test is acceptable for evaluation of an individual's COVID-19 status.
  • Persons who are obtaining a medical or cosmetic service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the services.
  • Workers who wear respiratory protection, per CalOSHA requirements.
  • Persons who are specifically exempted from wearing masks by other CDPH guidance.

Does this CDPH requirement supersede my local mask ordinance?

No, as long as the local ordinance is at least as restrictive as the new CDPH requirement. Many local cities and counties have already issued local face covering requirements. According to the CDPH guidance, “The updated CDPH guidance only applies to those local health jurisdictions that do not already have an existing indoor masking requirement in public settings that applies irrespective of individuals' vaccine status. For local health jurisdictions that had pre-existing masking requirements irrespective of vaccine status, in indoor public settings, prior to December 13, 2021, those local health orders continue to apply.”

For further information regarding face coverings, other COVID-19 issues, or assistance with other employment law issues, contact the attorneys at LightGabler.

Copyright © LightGabler LLPContact | Our People | Website by Dan Gilroy Design