Masks Are Still Required in California Until June 15: What You Need to Know

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A worker distributes hand sanitizer to customers at a Trader Joe's store. Until June 15, masks will still be required inside stores in California, including national chains like Starbucks, Walmart and Trader Joe's.
A worker distributes hand sanitizer to customers at a Trader Joe's store. Until June 15, masks will still be required inside stores in California, including national chains like Starbucks, Walmart and Trader Joe's. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks in most places, indoors and outdoors.

But California officials announced Monday that the state will not align with the CDC's guidance until June 15.

Why June 15? And what are the rules on face coverings to know right now? Read on for more.

Q. Why Isn’t California Following the CDC?

A. "It's in no way saying that the science or the direction by the CDC is wrong or there's a challenge to it," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency at a press briefing about the state's announcement. It’s more about buying time, he said.

"This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change while we continue the relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly to underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic,” Ghaly said.

Q. Why Has June 15 Been Chosen?

A. Gov. Gavin Newsom had previously set June 15 as the date when California will reopen for "business as usual," so long as COVID-19 case numbers and vaccination rates met certain thresholds.

Newsom said this opening day would also be “subject to ongoing mask-wearing and ongoing vigilance.”

Q. What Are California’s Current Mask Guidelines For Fully Vaccinated People?

A. In short, if you’re fully vaccinated and you’re outdoors, the only setting in which you still need a mask in California until June 15 is in a large crowd of strangers.

In indoor settings outside your home, including on public transit, you still need a mask even if you’re fully vaccinated until June 15 comes.

Read more about what fully vaccinated people can (and can't) do, including the guidance for visiting unvaccinated people.

Q. What About Businesses Like Trader Joe’s That Say They Won’t Require Masks?

A. If a business is in California it has to adhere to California guidelines. This includes national chains like Starbucks, Walmart and Trader Joe's, which have already announced they will no longer require fully vaccinated customers to don masks in their stores in places that have adopted the CDC's new guidelines.

Basically, you still need a mask at TJ’s until June 15 is here.


Q. What Will Change Starting June 15?

A. On this “opening day,” California will adopt the CDC’s updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can go maskless in most settings, indoors and outdoors.

But after June 15, California will continue to require mask-wearing in all public schools, in line with CDC guidelines.

Masks will also still be required in some public spaces, including hospitals, on public transit and in congregate housing facilities like nursing homes, homeless shelters and prisons.

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Q. Where Should I Go For the Latest California Mask Guidelines?

If you're looking for online clarity before June 15, you should source your answers from the California Department of Public Health's site rather than from the CDC's webpages,  because of this new disconnect between the CDC and California's rules.

When the state and the CDC align on mask-wearing on June 15, this will all — hopefully — become a lot simpler.

Q. I'm Already Worried About Wildfires and Smoke. How Does California's Mask Guidance Square With Smoke Protection?

"The best mask for protecting oneself from wildfire smoke is an N95. That's also the best mask for protecting oneself from coronavirus," said Dr. John Balmes, a UCSF pulmonologist and professor of medicine.

N95 masks are no longer in short supply either, as they were in the early part of the pandemic, so you don't need to worry about taking supplies of these masks away from health care providers.

Surgical masks are the next best thing, and Balmes estimated surgical masks can reduce exposure to wildfire smoke by roughly 20%. A cloth mask does not filter out wildfire smoke.

Read more about which mask to wear during the pandemic in the event of wildfire.