Seyfarth Synopsis: Starting today, December 15, 2021, Californians must again mask up in public indoor spaces, regardless of their vaccination status. California’s Department of Public Health imposed this state-wide four-week mandate to curb the spread of COVID-19 over the holidays.

In the face of the Omicron variant, California announced that it is again imposing a statewide requirement for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in indoor public spaces. This requirement will last at least four weeks, through January 15, 2022, at which time the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will reevaluate whether the mask mandate should be extended.

What is an Indoor Public Space?

On December 14, 2021, California updated its Face Coverings Q&A, removing its definition of “indoor public space.” Previously, the CDPH defined a public indoor space as an indoor facility with public access (e.g., “live performances, indoor malls, movie theaters, places of worship, indoor mega events, and indoor museums”). On December 15, 2021, the FAQs were further revised to clarify that the statewide mask mandate applies to all workplaces regardless of public access to the space. The only exemption for workplaces is for a person “working alone in a closed office or room.” As a result, offices with shared spaces, such as cubicle bays and conference rooms, should adhere to the new masking requirement.

Whether Unvaccinated, Vaccinated, or Boosted, Californians Must Mask Up Over the Holidays

Under the new mandate, only the following limited categories of individuals can forgo masking:

  • People under two years old;
  • People with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask;
  • 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; and
  • People for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

Pre-Existing Local Mask Ordinances Remain in Effect

Prior to the statewide mandate, some cities and counties imposed their own mask indoor ordinances. To the extent these pre-existing local ordinances imposed masking irrespective of vaccine status, the FAQs explain that these local ordinances remain in effect. In response, San Francisco, an early adopter of indoor mask mandating, updated its existing masking order on December 14, 2021, clarifying that its exemption from mask wearing for stable, fully vaccinated cohorts in offices and gyms remains in effect, despite the statewide mandate.

Holiday Travel? Don’t Forget to Test

On December 13, 2021, the CDPH also issued a travel advisory, recommending (but not requiring) that individuals traveling into California from out of state or out of the country test for COVID-19 three to five days after arrival. This recommendation may impact California employers who have employees traveling out of state over the holidays.

Workplace Solutions

Remain on the lookout for additional alerts. If the last 22 months have taught us anything, it is that public health orders can change quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Consult your Seyfarth attorney, including any member of Seyfarth’s Workplace Safety Team, to ensure that your business is complying with the ever-changing COVID-19 rules and regulations.

Edited by Coby Turner