Where You Still Have to Wear a Mask in California

Registered nurses in the intensive care unit at Providence St. Mary Medical Center last month.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

To mask or not to mask? That is the question.

We’re in a particularly confusing moment of the pandemic, when most Americans are vaccinated or have already had Covid-19 and an especially contagious variant of the coronavirus is spreading nationwide. And in this latest difficult-to-navigate phase, rules about masking seem to shift hourly and differ from town to town.

A Florida judge last week struck down a national mask mandate for public transit, in opposition of C.D.C. recommendations. Philadelphia lifted its indoor mask mandate on Friday, four days after instating it. Meanwhile, at least a dozen universities are reintroducing mask mandates this week.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Given the uncertainty, The New York Times published a guide to the latest masking science, which includes advice from experts about when it makes the most sense to mask up.

“This is the hardest thing of all because it’s not just the risks and benefits to you,” Dr. Robert Wachter, a professor and the chair of the medicine department at the University of California, San Francisco, told my colleagues. “It’s the risks and benefits to the people around you.”

California officials lifted our statewide indoor mask mandate in February. The state’s school mask requirement ended in March, with many large school districts following suit in April. Last week, in alignment with federal guidance, the state called off mandatory masking on buses and trains.

Though California officials still strongly recommend that you wear a mask in indoor public settings, this is, as far as rules go, the most unmasked we’ve been since the pandemic began. And despite a recent rise in coronavirus cases, it seems unlikely that the state is going to hand down additional mandates anytime soon.

Still, there are a few places in the Golden State where you must keep a face covering on, whether or not you’re vaccinated. Everywhere in California, you are required to wear a mask in the following places that are considered high risk for coronavirus transmission:

  • Health care settings, such as hospitals and doctor’s offices

  • Emergency shelters and cooling centers

  • Jails and prisons

  • Homeless shelters

  • Long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes

The only people exempted from these rules are children under 2 and people with a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask or being able to communicate while wearing a mask, according to state guidelines.

For most Californians, that’s everything you need to know about masking rules. Unless you live in Los Angeles County.

Travelers and airline workers at Los Angeles International Airport last week.Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

In Los Angeles County, home to one in four Californians, masks are still required on all public transit and transportation hubs, including airports, buses and ride shares, officials announced late last week.

The order, which went into effect on Friday, comes as cases have risen in the county by nearly 70 percent over the past month, according to the New York Times tracker. Officials will reassess the order in 30 days or if transmission rates fall significantly before then.

The county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, put it this way: “While many of us would like to be at a place where masking is no longer necessary, with substantial transmission and a more infectious variant, one of the easiest things we can do to prevent infection is to wear a well-fitting mask.”

For more:

  • Check Covid case counts where you live.

  • A new C.D.C. report found that more than half of Americans have already had Covid.

  • Who ended the federal travel mask mandate? A vaccine critic, a Florida judge and two anxious travelers.

Vice President Kamala Harris in the Rose Garden this month.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • Kamala Harris catches Covid: The vice president tested positive for the virus shortly after returning to the White House following several days in California.

  • Prison overdoses drop: The number of overdose deaths among California prison inmates fell by 58 percent during the first two years of a program that uses prescribed drugs to treat incarcerated addicts, The Associated Press reports.

  • Housing crunch: Terrell Thompson, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, slept in his car last fall. He’s the victim of a housing shortage affecting college students in California and beyond, The Associated Press reports.


  • New drought rules: Southern California officials announced on Tuesday that outdoor watering would soon be restricted to one day a week in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino Counties, The Associated Press reports.

  • Surf pools during a drought?: At least four large surf lagoons are proposed for the region around Palm Springs, a plan that environmentalists say isn’t water-wise in one of the driest spots in California, The Associated Press reports.

  • L.A. sheriff investigates a reporter: Sheriff Alex Villanueva said on Tuesday that he was investigating a reporter at The Los Angeles Times, which drew accusations that he was violating the journalist’s First Amendment rights.

  • Warehouse takeover: A boom in warehouse growth is clashing with rural life in the Inland Empire, The Verge reports.


  • Garlic festival: The Gilroy Garlic Fest might be canceled, but this garlic festival in Fresno hopes to be its successor, The Fresno Bee reports.


  • Sturgeon poachers: Eight men were arrested on suspicion of poaching white sturgeon from Sacramento Valley waterways, The Associated Press reports.

  • U.C. Berkeley lockdown: A student on academic suspension threatened staff members, causing a campuswide shutdown last week, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Credit…Courtesy of The Agency

What you get

For $2.2 million: A Spanish-style home in Los Angeles, a three-bedroom condominium in San Francisco and a midcentury ranch house in Kentfield.

Credit…Michael Stravato for The New York Times

What we’re eating

Mexican-style pepper steak.

Credit…Chon Kit Leong/Alamy

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Rod Tompkins, who lives in Pasadena:

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

And before you go, some good news

In 2003, Lindsey Madison Ward and Michael Taylor Richardson were both at a pool party before their first year of middle school at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles.

Ward noticed the System of a Down band T-shirt that Richardson was wearing, and went over to introduce herself. She too was a fan of the metal band.

Nineteen years later, Ward and Richardson got married. Read their love story in The Times.

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

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Country that shares an island with the Dominican Republic (5 letters).

Briana Scalia and Jack Kramer contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at


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