When Do Californians Still Need To Wear A Mask And What Will Change On June 15?

California announced Monday it’ll continue requiring almost everyone — including fully vaccinated individuals — to wear masks in most indoor settings until June 15, bucking the trend of other states across the nation that are quickly adopting looser guidelines released last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC on May 13 recommended that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks or socially distance themselves, even when indoors or in large group settings.

Though an increasing number of states, including New York, Illinois, Washington and Oregon, have embraced the new federal guidelines, California officials have opted to take a more cautious approach.

Monday’s announcement will require big box stores and chain retailers such as Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Starbucks to still require masks in their California stores despite dropping mask mandates for vaccinated customers in states following CDC guidelines.

Here’s what you need to know about the current masking requirements in California.

When are Californians currently required to wear a mask? 

Under California’s current mask rules, which were issued on May 3 by the state’s Department of Public Health, both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals are generally required to wear face coverings in indoor places away from home. The state rules allow for some exemptions, including when everyone at a gathering is fully vaccinated or when only members from one unvaccinated household are present but they are all have a low risk of severe complications should they get infected with COVID-19.

But individuals who are fully vaccinated are not required to don masks outdoors, except when attending a crowded outdoor event, such as concerts, parades, festivals and sporting events.

Unvaccinated people must wear face coverings “any time physical distancing cannot be maintained” outdoors, including while exercising or gathering outside with fully vaccinated people.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second Pfizer or Moderna shot, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

What about businesses like Trader Joe’s that already announced they were getting rid of masking requirements?

A growing number of large grocery chains and big box stores, like Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Starbucks, have announced in recent days that they were lifting masking requirements and falling in line with the CDC’s guidance.

But Ghaly remained optimistic Monday that those companies would abide by California’s rules for the stores located here and prepare to implement the CDC guidance on June 15, rather than immediately.

At Costco, for instance, the company said in a statement that it would first abide by state or local mask mandates, such as requiring customers wear masks in California stores. In locations where a state or local jurisdiction does not have a mask mandate, Costco will allow people who are fully vaccinated to shop without a face covering.

Just like all of California’s public health orders issued during the COVID-19 pandemic, enforcing the state’s masking requirements and punishing businesses that fail to abide by the rules will be up to local law enforcement until June 15.

Can stores and counties decide to implement CDC guidelines right away?

No. Individual counties and stores across California must follow the state’s masking rules until at least June 15. After that date, counties may decide to implement stricter mask requirements than the state, but they cannot be looser.

“If a county chooses to either further delay that date or wait or nuance it a bit and require (masks) in certain other venues or sectors, that is something that can be done,” Ghaly said. “It’s not a ceiling on restrictions, in some ways it’s a floor.”

What will change on June 15?

Starting June 15, Californians will be subject to the CDC masking guidance rather than the state rules.

Under the CDC guidance, Americans who are fully vaccinated will be permitted to resume their regular pre-pandemic activities such as going to work, participating in an indoor workout class, seeing a movie with friends or eating at an indoor restaurant or bar without wearing a mask — a freedom that has not been exercised by most people since March 2020.

As it stands now, masks will still be required in health care settings, public transit and transportation stations and in airports and on planes.

Why is the state waiting until June 15?

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Monday that the state’s decision to delay the mask easing by a month will give employers time to adjust to the new masking rules and will give state and local public health officials additional time to get more people vaccinated, therefore increasing community protection against COVID-19 statewide.

The easing of mask requirements will also coincide with California’s target date for a “full reopening” of the economy.

What else is happening on June 15?

June 15 will mark the end of the state’s complex color-coded system of rules known as the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” which has guided the reopening effort across California’s 58 counties since last summer.

Starting June 15, California will “fully reopen” its economy and lift nearly all of the COVID-related restrictions in place. Restaurants, bars, museums, stores, movie theaters and nearly all other businesses statewide will be permitted to resume operations at full capacity both indoors and outdoors.


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