Students wearing face masks on the UC San Diego campus. Photo by Chris Stone

The vast majority of California’s COVID-19 restrictions were lifted Tuesday, but Gov. Gavin Newsom warned the virus is still active, and mask-wearing will continue to be a reality for non-vaccinated residents, at businesses that opt to require them and for people who simply feel safer wearing them.

Effective at 12:01 a.m., the state officially scrapped its Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the four-tier, color-coded roadmap of restrictions on economic activity and public gatherings based on individual counties’ COVID case rates and testing-positivity rates.

With the blueprint gone, the state officially lifted all physical-distancing requirements and capacity restrictions at businesses and public gatherings. The result is that businesses can generally return to near-normal operations, including indoor bars and restaurants. Concerts can resume, along with full-capacity crowds at sporting events.

Mask-wearing, however, still remains required in certain circumstances, particularly for people who are not vaccinated.

California’s mask-wearing guidance for the general public aligns largely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The guidance allows fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most situations. But they are still be required in certain settings for all people, regardless of vaccination status:

  • On public transit, including airplanes, ships, trains, buses, taxis and ride-hailing vehicles, and in transportation hubs such as airports, but terminals, train stations, seaports, marinas and subway stations.
  • Indoors at K-12 schools, child-care facilities and other youth settings.
  • Health-care settings, including long-term care facilities.
  • At state and local correctional facilities and detention centers.
  • At homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers.

Masks are still required for unvaccinated people in indoor public settings and businesses such as retail stores, restaurants, theaters, movie theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices serving the public.

Business and event-venue operators can choose how to enforce those rules. According to the state, they have three options:

  • Businesses and venues can publicly post rules regarding mask wearing and allow customers and visitors to “self-attest” that they are vaccinated, meaning if someone enters the business without a mask they are attesting to being vaccinated.
  • They can “implement a vaccine-verification system to determine whether individuals are required to wear a mask.”
  • They can simply require all patrons to wear a mask.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday recognized the issues with “self-attestation,” which essentially is an honor system, but said people “we hope will be honest about that.” He stressed that businesses can continue to mandate that all customers wear masks.

“Businesses can continue to make choices for themselves, what works for your business,” he said. “We’re not going to mandate passports, but businesses can require verification. Businesses can require mask-wearing. Businesses have the freedom of choice across the spectrum.

“You’re going to be in a scenario where a lot of people are going to be wearing masks — because they choose to wear masks, because businesses make requirements as it relates to masking,” he said. “We’re not where we all want to be, which is this pandemic completely extinguished. We’re just at the point with … case rates this low — and by the way California has the third-lowest positivity rate in America, and among the lowest case rates in America.”

The state rules also state that nobody can be excluded from a business or activity if they choose to wear a mask.

For at least a couple more days, mask-wearing will remain mandatory for workers in indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. On Thursday, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is set to consider revised workplace mask-wearing guidance, which would generally align with the state’s rules for the public at large.

The rules would require businesses to verify workers’ vaccination status and make masks available to unvaccinated workers, who must wear face coverings in the workplace. Vaccinated workers would not be required to wear masks in the workplace under the proposed rules.

If the board approves the rules Thursday, Newsom said he is prepared to issue an executive order implementing them immediately. Normally, the board’s decision would have to be reviewed by state attorneys and wouldn’t take effect until the end of the month. Newsom’s executive order would close that “gap” and immediately implement the rules later this week.

Newsom on Monday also warned that the move away from economic and public-gathering restrictions does not mean the pandemic is over.

“I want to encourage people, and I think this question highlights the importance of the ongoing work,” Newsom said. “We’re not done. This is not spiking the football tomorrow (Tuesday). It’s not mission accomplished tomorrow. This virus is not going away tomorrow. This pandemic is not behind us tomorrow. We’re very mindful that already in 2021, globally, more people have lost their lives to COVID than the entire year 2020.”

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