California to align its mask guidance with CDC’s effective June 15, 2021

California issued Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings to align with CDC recommendations. This guidance provides information about where masks may still be required or recommended. Our goal is to prevent transmission to people with a higher risk of infection, those with prolonged, cumulative exposures (like workers), or those whose vaccination status is unknown. When people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask consistently and correctly, especially indoors, they protect others as well as themselves.

Masks prevent people from getting and spreading COVID-19. The risk for COVID-19 exposure and infection will continue to remain until we reach community immunity from vaccinations.  The face coverings guidance mandates masks in most indoor and certain outdoor settings, with a few exceptions.

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How masks help stop the spread

A large proportion of people who are infected do not have symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic). They play an important part in spreading the virus, which is transmitted through the air and concentrates indoors. Infected droplets are released when a person exhales, talks, coughs, sneezes, sings, exercises, or shouts.

Masks can reduce your exposure to infectious droplets through filtration. They also reinforce physical distancing and show you care about the health of others.

Choosing a mask

Less effective
  • Cloth masks with 1 or 2 layers
  • Bandana
  • Gaiter
  • Fitted medical mask
  • Cloth mask with 3 layers
  • Double mask (medical + cloth)
  • KN95
  • N95

Cloth masks

Cloth masks can work well if they are tight-fitting and made of materials that filter out small particles.

Good cloth masks have:

  • Two layers of tightly woven cotton with a third layer of non-woven fabric. The third layer could be a mask filter insert, or a synthetic fabric such as polypropylene.
  • Nose wires to reduce gaps around the nose
  • Adjustable ear loops or headbands to reduce gaps around the face
Woman wearing a cloth mask.

Masks without these properties should not be used if other options are available.

Examples of less effective masks are:

  • Two-layer cotton masks
  • Bandanas
  • Gaiters

Medical masks

Medical masks (also called surgical masks) include many types of loose-fitting disposable masks. The fit of a medical mask can be improved with a simple modification or by using a mask brace .

Buy medical masks with:

  • Three layers of non-woven material
  • An adjustable nose bridge

Surgical masks with ties may provide a closer fit than ear loops.

Woman wearing a medical mask.

KN95 respirators

KN95s are respirators designed to provide a specific level of protection. But KN95 respirators have not gone through the same strict testing as N95s. 

Testing of KN95s has shown that some models are not effective. If you do choose to use a KN95, we recommend finding a KN95 that has been tested by NIOSH and has a minimum “filtration efficiency” of 95% or higher.

N95 respirators

When they fit well, N95 respirators are highly effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Make sure they are NIOSH-approved (have a TC-84A-XXXX number printed on the respirator). Choose a size and model that fits your face and has no gaps. Test it by doing a seal check to make sure it fits.

Picture of N95 mask.

As the availability of respirators increases, individuals may choose to wear them instead of other options, particularly in settings where greater protection is needed.

If you wear an N95 respirator, you should not wear an additional face covering over or under the respirator, as it can interfere with the seal to the face.

How to wear a mask

For your mask to be effective, it must be worn properly and consistently. 

  • Wear your mask so it completely covers the nose and mouth
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on your mask
  • Put the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
  • Fit the mask snugly against the sides of your face, slipping the loops over your ears or tying the strings behind your head
  • Make sure you can breathe easily
  • Try not to touch the mask when wearing it. This can transfer virus to your hands.
  • If you have to continually adjust your mask, it doesn’t fit properly. Try a different mask type or brand.

The CDC has more information about how to wear masks.

Mask fit and filtration

An effective mask has both good fit and good filtration.

Good fit

A well-fitted mask has no gaps between the face and mask, which can allow virus particles to leak in or out.

Good fit forces the air that you breathe out and breathe in to go through the mask and be filtered.

Woman wearing an ill-fitting mask that gaps and lets unfiltered air in and out.

Example of a poorly-fit mask

Good filtration

Good filtration blocks the virus particles from going through the mask itself. You can get good filtration with the right materials and by using more layers. 

Good fit and filtration improve protection for both you and others.

Double masking

“Double masking” is an effective way to improve fit and filtration. A close-fitting cloth mask can be worn on top of a surgical/disposable mask to improve the seal of the mask to the face. 

Layering more than two masks is not recommended as this could be difficult to breathe through. It is also not recommended to wear two medical masks, or to wear a medical mask on top of a KN95 or an N95. 

Double masking may be appropriate where improved fit and filtration are especially important.

When fit and filtration is especially important

Some situations require the higher level of protection you can get from good mask fit and filtration: 

  • Indoor spaces with people from outside your household
  • Close quarters with other people where social distancing is not possible (examples: riding a crowded bus, waiting in line at a crowded airport terminal)
  • Any public place if you are older or have medical conditions that put you at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness

Even when you’re at home, there are times when a higher level of protection is important, such as when:

  • Caring for family members who are sick or may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • Living in a household with someone who has or may have COVID-19
  • Someone from outside your household comes into your home (like a friend, relative, or repair person)
  • You work outside the home and live with someone who is older or has a medical condition that puts them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

Learn more about masking at Get the Most Out of Masking from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH

Face coverings (Masks) Guidance

  • For fully vaccinated persons, face coverings are not required outdoors except when:
    • Attending crowded outdoor events, such as:
      • Live performances
      • Parades
      • Fairs
      • Festivals
      • Sports events
      • Other similar settings
  • For unvaccinated persons, face coverings are required outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained. Face coverings are also required when:
    • Attending crowded outdoor events, such as:
      • Live performances
      • Parades
      • Fairs
      • Festivals
      • Sports events
      • Other similar settings
  • Face coverings are required, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor settings outside of one’s home, such as public transportation, except as outlined below. 
    • Fully vaccinated people can visit, without wearing masks or physical distancing: 
      • Other fully vaccinated people in indoor or outdoor settings
      • Unvaccinated people (including children) from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease.

Learn more about mask requirements in CDPH’s Guidance for the use of face coverings.

Mask wearing exceptions

Individuals do not have to wear a mask when:

  • In a car alone or solely with members of their own household.
  • Working in an office or in a room alone.
  • Getting a service to the nose or face for which temporary removal of the mask is necessary.
  • Your job requires you to wear respiratory protection.
  • You are specifically exempted from wearing face coverings by industry specific guidance.

Some people are exempt from wearing face coverings at all times:

  • Children younger than two years old, because they risk suffocation.
  • Those with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. This includes:
    • Medical conditions for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing.
    • Being unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.
  • Those who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired. In these cases, the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Those for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work.

Persons exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition who are employed in a job involving regular contact with others must wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, as long as their condition permits it.

Read CDPH’s Guidance for the use of face coverings.

Questions and answers

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