What to Know About California’s Mask Rules

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With the Omicron variant in retreat across much of the country, federal officials on Friday inched toward a new pandemic normal by easing their guidelines for staying safe from the coronavirus.

Based on new criteria for measuring a community’s Covid-19 risk, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 70 percent of Americans could stop wearing masks, and would no longer need to social distance or avoid crowded indoor spaces.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, what this means for Californians is not that simple.

The federal guidance is merely a baseline upon which local rules are layered. In other words, even if C.D.C. officials say masks aren’t needed where you live, the mayor of your city might still prohibit you from going barefaced to the grocery store.

These rules can be confusing, so today I’m going to walk you through the latest federal, state and local recommendations and how they could apply to you.

Keep in mind that public health guidelines are always shifting, and that a major change to California’s school masking requirements is expected to be announced later today. (More on that below.)

Until last week, the C.D.C. had been calculating a community’s Covid-19 risk level based on numbers of new cases. But given that Omicron spreads easily but causes mostly mild illness, the new calculations rely more on the likelihood that hospitals could be overwhelmed.

With its overhauled metrics, the C.D.C. reduced the fraction of counties in the U.S. where it recommends indoor masking to 37 percent from 95 percent. (One exception: No matter where you live, masks are required on public transit and airplanes.)

These looser recommendations aren’t necessarily permanent, but an acknowledgment that our pandemic situation appears to be improving.

“We want to give people a break from things like masking when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future,” the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told reporters on Friday. “We need to be prepared, and we need to be ready for whatever comes next.”

In California, 30 of our 58 counties fall into that high-risk, mask-recommended category. Those include Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Fresno Counties.

So while you can always wear a mask if it makes you feel safer, the C.D.C. is saying that you definitely should wear a mask in these high-transmission areas, regardless of your vaccination status.

You can check your county’s risk level as determined by the C.D.C. here.

If where you live is considered high risk, you don’t need to dive further into state and local regulations: Just keep that mask on.

But if your county is listed as medium or low risk, such as San Francisco and Ventura Counties, then you need to pay attention to the statewide rules.

California regulations require that if you’re unvaccinated, you have to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. And even if you have your shots, you must still mask up in certain settings, such as doctor’s offices, homeless shelters and prisons.

So let’s say that you’re not in a high-risk county and you have all of your shots. Can you go to the movies without a mask on?

Yes, unless your community has its own additional mask rules. (I warned you it was complicated.) Counties with mask ordinances include Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Mendocino.

That brings us, finally, to masking in schools, which has become a particularly contentious issue in California.

Just yesterday, 200 parents and children rallied in Golden Gate Park in opposition to California’s requirement that teachers and students wear masks indoors, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. In recent weeks, there have been protests in favor of masks, too.

But change is coming soon.

On Friday, the C.D.C. announced that it no longer endorsed masking in schools everywhere in the country, and instead only in counties deemed at high risk. Later today, California officials are expected to announce a timeline for relaxing their own school mask mandate.

“Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, as reported by The Los Angeles Times.

For more:

Today’s travel tip comes from Gerry Brague:

Armstrong Woods is a state park north of Guerneville in Northern California about an hour and a half north of San Francisco. It is a wonderful stand of redwoods and much less crowded than Muir Woods. There are hiking trails and a picnic area and it is a peaceful and lovely spot.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

For decades, a heart-valve replacement was off limits to people over 90 because they were considered too frail to survive the invasive surgery it required.

But that changed in 2012, when a replacement technique that doesn’t require open-heart surgery gained federal approval. The new procedure has helped extend the lives of some of the oldest Americans.

Velvin Bill, who lives in the San Diego area, received a high-tech heart valve two years ago when his original equipment began to fail.

This month, he turned 100.

Read more from The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Birds that can fly nearly silently (4 letters).


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