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Christy Dawn
Photograph: Courtesy Christy Dawn

California has tightened—and clarified—some of its face mask guidance

The updated guidance says you need to wear one outside—but you pretty much already had to anyway.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

As California slips back into heightened restrictions across the state, it’s worth brushing up on one of the most important pieces of defense: wearing a face covering (paired with distancing and hand washing, of course).

On Monday, the California Department of Public Health updated its mask guidance for the first time since June. Whereas previously the state listed a wide range of high-risk scenarios in which you need to wear a mask, they’ve now flipped the logic and transitioned to this easier-to-follow mandate:

People in California must wear face coverings when they are outside of the home, unless one of the exemptions below applies.

When you sort through those exemptions—which we’ll get to in a minute—not much has changed. And here in L.A. specifically, since masks have been required since May (a statewide order came the following month) and our rules have sometimes been more strict than the state’s, we should all be familiar with these anyway. The bottom line is still this: just wear your mask, please (and yes, that includes over your nose). The guidance does, however, clarify mask-wearing procedures in two scenarios where people tend to get pretty lax about the habit.

First, you need to have one with you when you’re outside, period. If you’re “outdoors and maintaining at least six feet of social distancing from others not in [your] household” then you don’t need to actually wear your mask at that moment. But once you’re within six feet of someone else, you’ll need to wear it. This was already the case in L.A. County, but the previous state guidance was a bit more vague.

The second big one involves dining out. The state specifies that you’ll need to wear a mask except when you’re “actively eating or drinking.” While not as particular as the overblown fuss about the “in between bites” tweet last month, the state’s guidance makes it pretty clear that just sitting at a table isn’t enough to exempt you from wearing a mask; if you’re sitting around and waiting for food, you need to wear one (again, this was already a bit more plainly spelled out in the county’s guidance).

The guidance also more clearly lists some other scenarios where you don’t need to wear a face covering: if you’re in your car alone; working in an office alone; obtaining a service that involves your nose or face, in which case you can temporarily remove it while the work is being done; wearing some sort of other respiratory protection for work; or if you’re part of a category of persons that’s specifically exempt from wearing one.

As for those all-the-time exemptions, those only include people younger than two years old, people who are or are communicating with a person who’s hearing impaired, and people for whom wearing one would constitute an on-the-job risk. This also includes people with a disability or medical or mental health condition that prevents them from wearing one—specifically cases where a mask may obstruct breathing or when a person is unable to remove a mask on their own. But the state says very plainly: “such conditions are rare.”

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