Half Of California’s Counties May Be Exempt From Parts Of Its Universal Indoor Mask Mandate

“We will require universal masking in indoor settings statewide,” announced California Director of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly on Monday.

The state order, which went into effect today, requires masks indoors at public transit facilities such as airports, healthcare settings, adult and senior care facilities, schools, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants, family entertainment centers and government offices that serve the public.

In making the revelation, Ghaly said the order will cover the roughly 50% of California’s population not currently under such a mandate. That means roughly 50% of the state was already covered by preexisting local mask orders. Turns out, that may give those counties a little more latitude.

The state’s explainer on the new mask guidance contains the following language:

“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.”

What does that mean for those counties that did have preexisting mask mandates? According to that same California Department of Public Health explainer:

“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” and any associated exemptions or additional requirements included in those local orders would then also continue to apply.”

Los Angeles is one such county, though its mask requirements are in lock step with the state’s. Deadline reached out to L.A. Public Health for comment, but did not hear back.

San Francisco’s order, however, does depart from the state guidance in respect to what the county calls “exemptions for stable groups of Fully Vaccinated people.” Furthermore, the county posted a clarification to its web site this week indicating that its rules would pertain.

The exact language in the county’s clarification is as follows:

“Because San Francisco has had masking rules in place in the Safer Return Together Health Order since August 2, 2021, we are maintaining those rules with the December 14, 2021 update with only minor clarifications. The [San Francisco] Order’s masking rules remain in effect, including exemptions for stable groups of Fully Vaccinated people.”

Some of the exempt groups/activities/establishments under the San Francisco order include fully vaccinated people at gyms and yoga studios and in offices.

One other novel exemption applies to movie theaters. “Theaters where concessions are sold may require proof of Full Vaccination to be shown at the time of patrons’ purchase of concessions,” reads the order, “rather than at the entrance to the establishment. Theaters are prohibited from selling food or beverages to any patron indoors who fails to provide this proof.”

The Mercury News reported today that Alameda and Contra Costa counties will also keep local rules in place that permit “masks to come off indoors in certain controlled settings with a small, stable group of fully vaccinated people — such as workspaces and gyms.”

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