Citing a sharp increase in COVID-19 infection rates since Thanksgiving, the state Wednesday began requiring mask-wearing in all indoor public settings across California regardless of vaccination status, a rule that has been in place for months in Los Angeles County.
The statewide mask mandate will remain in place until Jan. 15. Among the indoor public spaces affected are retail stores, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices that serve the public.
Los Angeles County has long maintained a mask-wearing mandate in place for indoor public facilities. But the rule will mark a change in Orange County, but it’s unclear if anyone will actively try to enforce it there — a county where many residents have vocally opposed mask-wearing requirements and most other anti-COVID health regulations throughout the pandemic.
According to the state, roughly half of California’s population already lives counties that had local mask-wearing mandates in place.
In addition to imposing the mask mandate, the state has also toughened the restriction for unvaccinated people who attend indoor “mega-events” of 1,000 people or more, requiring them to receive a negative COVID test within one day of the event if it’s a rapid antigen test or within two days for a PCR test. The previous rule required a test within 72 hours of the event.
State officials are also recommending, but not requiring, that people who travel to California or return to the state after traveling be tested for COVID within three to five days.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the changes were prompted by what he called a 47% increase in COVID-19 case rates across the state since Thanksgiving. He said over that time, the statewide rate of daily new cases went from 9.6 per 100,000 residents to more than 14 per 100,000.
Ghaly said state officials also acted in hopes of avoiding the dramatic surge in cases experienced statewide last year during the winter holiday months.
“As we look at the evidence that masks do make a difference, even a 10% increase in indoor masking can reduce case transmission significantly,” he said Monday.
Under previous state guidelines — which were followed by many counties including Riverside, Orange and San Diego — masks were only required indoors at public transit facilities such as airports, healthcare settings, adult and senior care facilities, schools, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers.
The state technically already required mask-wearing for unvaccinated people at indoor public facilities, but the new rule impacts everyone regardless of vaccine status.