Wearing Masks in Public: What You Need to Know

Lorena Zeruche, who owns Loló, a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District, wears a bandana on her face on April, 1, 2020 as she prepares for another day of takeout-only service.  (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

Updated June 19, 1 p.m.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order Thursday requiring all Californians to wear face coverings while in public settings, including indoor public spaces, on public transit and in most work situations. The new order also applies to children over the age of 2.

The move is based on growing evidence that COVID-19 can be spread by people who are infected, but are asymptomatic or presymptomatic, according to the order.

Mandates to wear face coverings while conducting essential business have been in place in the Bay Area since mid-April. A few counties in Southern California had rescinded requirements to wear masks in public, but the governor's order supersedes local measures.

Under the new statewide order you must wear a mask in the following "high-risk" situations:

  • While inside of, or in line to enter, any indoor public space
  • Obtaining medical care
  • Waiting for or riding public transit, taxis or ride-hailing vehicles
  • Driving or operating any kind of public transit vehicles when passengers are present. When no passengers are present, face coverings are still strongly recommended.
  • Engaging in-person with members of the public
  • Working in a space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time
  • Working in any space where food is prepared or packaged
  • Working in or walking through common areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators and parking facilities while at work
  • While outdoors in public spaces when maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet from others is not feasible

Certain people are exempt from the order, including:

  • Children under the age of 2 should not wear masks due to the risk of suffocation. Unlike previous orders concerning face masks, children under the age of 12 are no longer exempt.
  • People with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering
  • People who are hearing impaired or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication

Masks are also not required for people who are dining at restaurants as long as they can stay 6 feet away from people who are not members of their household. The same goes for people engaged in outdoor activities, whether for work or recreation.

Face coverings include any fabric that fully covers the nose and mouth and fits securely, be that a bandanna, scarf, neck gaiter or homemade cotton mask. Officials are encouraging residents to avoid purchasing N95 or surgical masks, which they say are in short supply and should be reserved for front-line health care workers.

State health officials say masks help "reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs or sneezes, including someone who has COVID-19 but has yet to show any symptoms."


After a prolonged debate, the state of California and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in early April released guidelines that the public should wear some kind of face covering when they leave their houses to conduct essential jobs or tasks. The move came amid a growing body of scientific research that suggests covering your face with fabric is an effective tool in helping to stop the spread of the virus, which is now understood to be highly contagious days before any symptoms appear and for people who remain asymptomatic.

"This helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread across the country," Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, told NPR.

In early April, President Trump said his administration was recommending that Americans use "non-medical cloth" face coverings, although the president stressed that doing so was voluntary and that he had no intention of wearing one himself.

"I don't think I'm going to be doing it," Trump said. "Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don't see it."

While federal, state and local officials say masks can certainly help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, they stress that wearing them should not replace ongoing hygiene protocols.

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Here are few reminders when wearing a face mask:

  • Make sure it completely covers your mouth and nose
  • Once you put it on, leave the thing alone! Try not to adjust it
  • Wash it frequently
  • Continue social distancing practices — stay at least 6 feet away from other people
  • Maintain good hygiene — wash your hands thoroughly and often
  • Discard your face covering if it is damaged, stretched out or no longer fits over your entire mouth and nose.

Check out this CDC guide for more on how to properly wear face coverings and instructions for making your own.