Originally published Feb. 10, 2022
Updated March 2, 2022
Mask mandates are ending across the Sacramento region, following California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that the state would not extend its universal mask requirement past Feb. 15.
The state then announced Feb. 28 it was dropping the masking requirement for unvaccinated people indoors starting March 1, and in K-12 schools starting March 12. Masks remain “strongly recommended” for both unvaccinated and vaccinated people, and there will be still be certain spaces where all people, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks (see more on that below)
The universal mask requirement, originally implemented Dec. 15, was put in place to quell the spread of COVID-19 over the holidays and due to the surge of the omicron variant.
With masking rules changing again, here's what we know so far about regulations in the Sacramento region. We will update this page as we learn more.
What are Sacramento region counties doing?
As of March 1, Sacramento, Yolo, El Dorado, Solano, San Joaquin, Amador and Placer counties do not have mask mandates.
El Dorado, Solano, San Joaquin, Amador and Placer counties did not have guidance more restrictive than the state’s and have been following state guidelines for masking, so they have automatically adopted the state’s revised masking requirements.
Sacramento County had its own local mandate, but county Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye confirmed on CapRadio’s Insight Feb. 10 that Sacramento County is following the state’s lead. The county continues to follow the state in its loosening of masking rules in March, according to county spokesperson Samantha Mott.
Yolo County also had its own local mask mandate, and on Feb. 9 announced in a press release that it would not re-implement it, instead adopting the current state guidance for after Feb. 15.
In a Feb. 28 press release, the county said it realized COVID-19 “has proved unpredictable” and would respond to any change brought by a more severe COVID-19 variant.”
“The currently improving situation no longer necessitates masking mandates, but a worsening situation in the future could prompt a return to masking requirement,” the press release reads.
The county said in its rescission notice from Feb. 9 that it plans to reevaluate universal masking requirements should there be “sustained case rates greater than 14 per 100,000 residents per day,” and that at the time it expected to be below that figure by Feb. 16.
According to Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson, as of March 2, the county is currently at 17.2 cases per 100,000 residents and she expects it to fall below 14 cases within “the next several days.”
“The case rate trend needs to be taken into account along with its absolute value,” Sisson wrote via email. “Given the ongoing improvements in case rates, we are not considering reinstituting a mask mandate indoors.”
Sacramento County's Kasirye said following the state’s lead is a manner of reaching “balance.”
“We have to get to that balance of what kinds of restrictions we are going to put on the entire community as a whole to protect everybody, and also at the same time, being able to allow people to make those choices,” she said.
What are county health officials saying about mask wearing now?
A bicyclist at UC Davis wears a mask on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Yolo County’s Sisson said she still strongly recommends all people wear a mask indoors.
San Joaquin County spokesperson Cheryl Laughlin also said in February her county would be recommending the same.
“We continue to encourage people to wear a mask indoors when they’re unable to socially distance,” Laughlin said.
Kasirye said Sacramento County continues to recommend masking, “especially for people that have conditions that put them at risk.”
To unvaccinated people, Kasirye said it was important to know wearing a mask was for the protection of the person and those around them.
“We know masks are effective and if you need to wear one, you should be comfortable doing that,” she said.
What state rules remain in place?
The state’s universal requirement that all people wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status expired on Feb. 15.
When introducing its new approach to COVID-19, the SMARTER Plan, on Feb. 17, the state shifted to a four-tier approach to masking guidelines — required, strongly recommended, recommended and optional.
As of March 1, the state is no longer requiring — just “strongly recommending” — unvaccinated people wear masks indoors.
But that doesn’t mean you can ditch your mask in all situations — whether or not you’re fully vaccinated.
Here's updated guidance from the California Department of Public Health:
- Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, is no longer required to wear a mask indoors except in higher-risk settings.
- In higher-risk areas like public transit, jails, childcare settings, homeless shelters, long-term care facilities, K-12 schools and healthcare facilities, all people regardless of vaccination status must wear a mask. Starting Mar. 12, that requirement no longer applies in K-12 schools and healthcare facilities.
- Capacity for indoors and outdoors “mega events” is expanding from 500 to 1,000 and 5,000 to 10,000 respectively, though those events may be subject to additional testing and vaccination guidelines.
- The CDPH continues to “highly recommend” surgical masks or KN95, KF94 or N95 respirators with good fit.
- No one can be prevented from entering a business or participating in activities due to their decision to wear a mask.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently introduced new “COVID community levels”, which take into account hospitalizations and new COVID cases and serve as another barometer for people to check when deciding how to keep themselves safe in their community. A county can be “low”, “medium,” or “high.” Once a county reaches the “medium” community level, the CDC no longer recommends universal masking.
Solano County has a “high” COVID-19 community level, while San Joaquin, Yolo, Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Amador counties fall under the “medium” COVID community level.
What about schools?
After March 12, masks will no longer be required — just “strongly recommended” — for all students and staff in K-12 schools and childcare settings, regardless of vaccination status.
“We cannot predict the future of the virus, but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward,” Newsom said of the change in a press release.
Individual districts, however, can make their own guidelines.
Natomas Unified will be adopting the state’s guidance, according to a Feb. 28 press release. The district will continue to make masks at school sites available for those who want to wear them.
San Juan Unified will also be adopting the state’s guidance in moving to “strongly recommend” — not require — masks starting March 12. The district said it recognized there was a “variety of very strong feelings regarding face coverings” in a press release Feb. 28.
“For some individuals, relaxing these requirements will cause anxiety and stress while others will advocate for a more rapid move to only recommending masks,” the press release reads. “Throughout the pandemic, San Juan Unified has followed the guidance and advice of our public health and epidemiology experts and that is what we continue to do as we implement this change.”
Sacramento City Unified, however, has not yet made a decision as to whether it will follow state guidance.
SCUSD spokesperson Alexander Goldberg said via email that the district planned to communicate any updates at its upcoming March 3 board meeting and in subsequent emails to families.
“SCUSD will review the state’s new masking guidance and will continue to consult with Sacramento County Public Health for additional guidance based on local public health considerations,” he said.
Where can I get a mask?
The U.S. government is making up to three free N95 masks available to the public, which people can pick up from a participating pharmacy location. Additionally, this guide also has more information about how to find a high-quality, well-fitting N95.
Why are mask mandates being lifted now?
Cases are dropping in California overall. In a statement, CDPH Director Dr. Tomás J. Aragón cited that drop, along with the pace of vaccine development for children under 5 and improved access to COVID-19 treatment, as reasons for lifting the mask requirement.
While the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee had a meeting scheduled on Feb. 15 to discuss the efficacy of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine for kids under 5 years old, which researchers are currently compiling data for, it was later delayed.
And though Yolo County has a “relatively low” test positivity rate, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Solano and San Joaquin continue to have “high” test positivity rates, “suggesting that cases may be undercounted.” No data was available for Amador County.
Still, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Feb. 28 cited a drop in hospitalizations — from 8,189 on Feb. 14 to 4,233 on Feb. 28 — as part of the rationale for adjusting masking guidelines.
“We know that the data is trending in the right direction,” he said. “The future may bring … surges, new variants, and California will continue to be ready and bring in what we’ve learned so we can keep Californians safe and informed.”
Sisson, the Yolo County Health Officer, said in the statement that lifting the mandate in February was due to a changed COVID-19 situation thanks to “effective vaccines, effective treatments and a variant that causes less severe disease.”
“The Omicron wave is receding, but COVID-19 will continue to be with us,” Sisson said in the press release. “We must learn to live with COVID-19. Moving away from requiring everybody to wear masks indoors is a first step toward living with COVID-19.”
Yolo County Health and Human Services published a document last month laying out nine reasons that the county lifted its mask requirement. Some other included reasons, besides those Sisson mentioned, are the decoupling of infection and severe disease, increased clarity, decreasing case rates and low death rates of children under 5.
The document stresses that ending mandatory masking “is by no means a concession that masks do not work.”
“Ending the mask mandate is an acknowledgment that mandates are not the only way to support safer behavior, particularly over the long term,” it reads.
Kasirye with Sacramento County added it’s important to recognize that “COVID-19 is still with us and it can still be a very severe disease.”
“The fact that we are loosening some of these restrictions does not mean that it has completely gone away, so people still need to make some of those risk assessments,” she said.
She said the county is making sure to continue to monitor and provide recommendations and advice to the community about what they need to do to protect themselves.
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