The California Department of Public Health has extended the statewide indoor masking requirement one month, through Feb. 15, in response to dramatic increases in the numbers of new COVID-19 cases across the state because of the omicron variant.
Masks must be worn in all indoor public places regardless of vaccine status, the department said in a Wednesday evening post on Twitter.
“To ensure that we collectively protect the health and well-being of all Californians; keep schools open for in-person instruction; and allow California's economy to remain open and thrive, the California Department of Public Health is requiring masks to be worn in all indoor public settings, irrespective of vaccine status, until Feb. 15.”
The requirement will be updated as health officials continue to assess conditions, the department said later.
“Over the last two weeks, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by more than sixfold and hospitalizations have doubled,” state health officials said in an evening statement Jan. 5. “While the percentage of Californians fully vaccinated and boosted continues to increase, we continue to have areas of the state where vaccine coverage is low, putting individuals and communities at greater risk for COVID-19.”
The statement said that because hospitals are over capacity, “the surge in cases and hospitalizations has materially impacted California's health care delivery system within many regions of the state.”
“The COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in preventing serious disease, hospitalization, and death from the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” the department reported. “Unvaccinated persons are more likely to get infected and spread the virus which is transmitted through the air and concentrates indoors.”
“This measure brings an added layer of mitigation as the Omicron variant, a Variant of Concern as labeled by the World Health Organization, continues to increase in prevalence across California, the United States, and the world and spreads much more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant,” said state health officials.
The state noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December said atleast 10 studies have confirmed the benefit of universal masking in community level analyses: in a unified hospital system, a German city,two U.S. states, a panel of 15 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., as well as both Canada and the U.S.
“Each analysis demonstrated that, following directives for universal masking, new infections fell significantly,” the state reported.
“The masking requirement in California schools has allowed us to keep schools open when compared to other parts of the country. California accounts for roughly 12% of all U.S. students, but only 1% of COVID-19 related school closures,” state officials said.
Masks are required for all individuals in all indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status. Surgical masks or higher-level respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) with good fit are recommended.
See State Health Officer Order for a full list of high-risk congregate and other healthcare settings where surgical masks are required for unvaccinated workers, and recommendations for respirator use for unvaccinated workers in healthcare and long-term care facilities in situations or settings not covered by Cal OSHA ETS or ATD.
For additional information on types of masks, the most effective masks, and ensuring a well-fitted mask, individuals should refer to CDPH Get the Most out of Masking and see CDPH Masking Guidance Frequently Asked Questions for more information.
No person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a business.
The following individuals are exempt from wearing masks at all times:
- 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.