California lifts mask mandate — but what does it mean?

Vaccinated folks aren’t legally required to keep covered, but it’s a good idea for safety

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By Christopher Dolan and Allison Stone

Angie from Walnut Creek writes: Can I stop wearing my mask now that I am fully vaccinated? When I go out, I see some people wearing a mask and others without. What’s the right call on this?

Dear Angie: As of May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks and do not have to social distance in both outdoor and indoor settings. On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, California lifted its mask mandate. This is, of course, a huge milestone for Californians. However, do not throw out your masks just yet. It is important to understand what this really means. There are still situations where individuals, even those who are fully vaccinated, are required to wear masks.

In California, even if fully vaccinated, all people aged 2 and over must wear masks in schools, health care and long-term care facilities, prisons, homeless and emergency shelters, and on public transit. Even fully vaccinated individuals are required to wear masks in settings like hospitals and care facilities such as assisted living and nursing homes. As for schools and childcare settings, people including teachers and students who are fully vaccinated must still wear masks when they are indoors, but they do not have to while outdoors. This may change as updated K-12 schools’ guidance is forthcoming from the CDC.

Additionally, even if fully vaccinated, immune-compromised individuals should speak to their doctors before getting rid of their masks. You are considered fully vaccinated if you are at least two weeks beyond the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In California, masks are still required for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings, which includes but is not limited to stores, markets, movie theatres, retail shops, meetings, restaurants, salons, government offices serving the public, and any other indoor business. According to the CDC, unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks and social distance as they remain at risk of illness, death and spreading COVID-19 to others.

Moreover, regardless of vaccination status, many businesses and private entities are continuing to require masks. Businesses have the right to create and enforce their own mask policies and require customers to wear masks. Indeed, private businesses have property rights including the right to require patrons entering their business to wear a mask. Businesses and hosts may allow vaccinated individuals to self-attest that they are fully vaccinated or meet an approved masking exemption prior to entry, they may implement vaccine verification to determine whether individuals are required to wear a mask, or they may require all customers to wear masks.

If you as a customer decline to wear a mask and are asked to leave a business and refuse, you may be committing criminal trespass. Similarly, a business can choose to limit capacity to enforce social distancing. Some businesses may operate with guidelines using the honor code, meaning no mask is required if you are fully vaccinated but unvaccinated people still need to wear masks. Because there is no way for a business to know who has been vaccinated, you, as a customer, may choose to wear a mask in these situations. No one can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of entry into a business.

Likewise, large scale events such as sporting events, concerts, music festivals, shows, marathons, conventions, work or professional conferences or expos, etc. all have different requirements concerning masks. Many events will require proof or verification of full vaccination status prior to entry and/or negative COVID-19 test results for attendees prior to entry. Some events will allow individuals to attend even without vaccinations and without a negative COVID-19 test, so long as you are wearing a mask. Be sure to check the rules for the specific event you plan to attend because the rules will differ.

Next, all travelers, including fully vaccinated people, are required to wear face masks on airplanes and at airports, and U.S. airline companies will enforce the requirement on flights. This is a federal rule. It is important to take these rules seriously. The Federal Aviation Administration in January implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for travelers and fines can go up to $35,000 for unruly and/or disruptive passengers who refuse to wear a mask.

Further, it is not just air travel that is affected by the federal mandate. Per the Transportation Security Administration, the federal rule requiring all air, rail, bus and other travelers on public transportation over age 2 to wear a mask is still in effect. Other examples of transportation where masks are required include ships, ferries, subways, taxis and ride-shares. Masks are required in transportation hubs, including but not limited to bus stations, rail stations, airports, seaports, marinas, subway stations, bus stations and any other areas that provide transportation. Of course, this includes inside BART stations and onboard trains. According to BART, all stations have free masks available; see the station agent if you need one.

According to current CDC guidance, persons in outdoor areas of transit stations are encouraged, but not required, to wear a mask. You are required to wear a mask on your next trip via public transport, regardless of whether you are fully vaccinated or not. This federal policy is currently set to be in effect through Sept. 13, 2021.

If you are planning on traveling outside of California, be sure to check to see where the state you are traveling to stands on mask use. Some states now require masks only for unvaccinated people, other states require masks in certain instances like California (i.e. when in schools, nursing homes or riding public transportation), and other states have no mask requirement whatsoever.

Finally, despite California lifting its mask mandate, as the delta variant is becoming the dominant strain of the COVID-19 virus, the World Health Organization announced that even fully vaccinated people should wear masks and social distance when around others. So, for these reasons, keep your mask, at least for now.

Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of Dolan Law Firm, PC. Allison Stone is a senior associate attorney in our Los Angeles Office. We serve clients throughout the Bay Area and California from offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Email questions for future articles to: help@dolanlawfirm.com. Our work is no recovery, or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.

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