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Wearing a mask could go from a sign of caution to vulnerability as California reopens

Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SAN FRANCISCO — With California’s full economic reopening days away, there remains one question that has not been fully resolved in the minds of many eager to get back to normal life: To mask, or not to mask?

Beginning Tuesday, most of California’s mask rules imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic — covering customers’ trips to the store, the gym and restaurants — will disappear for those who are vaccinated.

There is growing evidence of the shots’ power to prevent serious disease and blunt transmission of the coronavirus, and health officials are increasingly unified in their belief that those who are fully inoculated can safely resume many activities without wearing face coverings.

Yet after more than a year of playing it safe, some are still planning to wear masks in crowded indoor public places when they cannot be sure that everyone around them has been vaccinated. Some public health experts say they will still probably wear masks for those occasions, while others say they feel perfectly comfortable dropping them even in those settings.

That divergence is symbolic of a new era California faces come Tuesday, when people will make their own choices as to whether to continue wearing masks, even if they’re no longer required. While the unvaccinated are still required to mask up in most settings, there historically hasn’t been much government enforcement tied to such mandates.

And given the heated debates over masking, officials are already warning the public against heaping scorn or dirty looks on those who decide to remain masked. Officials say it would be a mistake to start thinking that a face covering is indicative of someone’s vaccination status.


“This is very nuanced still, and there are some people for whom mask wearing is still life saving,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week.

As of Tuesday, the state’s planned reopening date, California will align with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated people largely no longer need to mask up — with some exceptions that include transit hubs or aboard public transportation; in healthcare settings and long-term care facilities; indoors at K-12 schools, childcare facilities or other youth settings; in homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers; and in correctional facilities and detention centers.

By contrast, people not yet fully vaccinated will be required to wear masks in businesses and public indoor settings, including retail stores, restaurants, theaters and family entertainment centers.

Theoretically, this creates an easy-to-understand standard: fully vaccinated equals no mask.


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