Masks and face coverings for added protection from the coronavirus

You must wear a mask indoors in most public places. Vaccinated people don’t have to wear a mask in some indoor settings.

The number of people in the hospital from COVID-19 has decreased. San Francisco will ease indoor masking requirements in the following settings on October 15, 2021:

  • Offices
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Employee commuter vehicles
  • Religious gatherings
  • Indoor classes, lecturers, or similar gatherings who meet regularly with less than 100 people

People can remove their masks in these stable settings. But only if the host or employer can verify full vaccination of everyone. 

Safety measures must also be in place. Some of the requirements are:

  • Proper ventilation
  • No recent COVID-19 outbreaks
  • No guests
  • No children under 12-years old
  • No persons unvaccinated due to a medical or religious exemption

San Francisco and the other Bay Area health officials have also issued what criteria need to be met to ease more COVID-19 masking rules.

When to wear a mask

You must still wear a mask in public places, like stores, restaurants, and large indoor events, even if you are fully vaccinated.

Places masks are required for everyone

At some businesses

Face coverings are still required when you are:

  • Seeking healthcare (including any waiting rooms)
  • Inside a K-to-12 school, childcare facility, youth sports, or other youth setting
  • At a business or venue that chooses to require masks for all patrons and staff 
  • Jails
  • Homeless shelters, cooling centers, and emergency shelters
  • Long-term care facilities and adult and senior care centers

Traveling

Face coverings are still required when you are:

  • On public transportation (or waiting for it indoors)
  • Driving or riding in a taxi or rideshare vehicle (even by yourself)

Scarves, ski masks, balaclavas, or bandanas are not allowed on any public transportation (or waiting for it). This is by CDC order. See SF guidance on traveling on public transit.

Certain groups are not required to wear a mask

Children

Children under 2 years old must not wear face coverings. They might suffocate.

Children 2 and older must wear face coverings in indoor public buildings. This includes in-person school,youth programs, and childcare programs.

Businesses should not refuse an essential service, like groceries, to someone because a child is not wearing a face covering or not wearing it properly.

Children 10 and over must wear face coverings, like adults do.

Health and safety reasons

If you have a physical, intellectual, or developmental disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering, you do not have to wear one.

If you are deaf and use facial and mouth movements as part of communication, you can remove your mask while communicating.

Anyone who has trouble breathing, or is not able to take off a face covering without help, should not wear one. You do not have to wear a face covering if you have a letter from a medical professional saying you do not need to wear one because of your condition.

If you can’t wear a medical or fabric mask, use other options

You are still required to wear something over your nose and mouth to block droplets, such as a gaiter with 2 layers.

If you will create a safety hazard at work (under established health and safety guidelines) by wearing anything on your face, you do not have to wear one. 

If you have signed documentation showing a medical professional has told you not to wear a face covering of any kind, you do not have to wear one. The document does not need to explain your medical condition. The documentation should include the contact and license information of the medical professional.

The best mask for protection is one you wear consistently and correctly

When to double mask

Double masking is not always better than single masking, especially if you have a very high quality, effective single mask or N95 respirator. 

Double masking might be more protective than single masking, if:

  • The top mask helps the bottom mask fit more tightly on your face
  • You use 2 masks made from different materials (one mask may capture particles the other doesn’t)

Read more about how to make your mask fit better.

When to wear an N-95

Properly fitted N95 masks offer additional protection from the COVID-19 virus. It can filter particles better than other masks. 

But to keep you from getting COVID-19, the N-95 must fit tightly around your face. It will be harder to breathe in it. It’s also not designed for children. 

If you feel worse wearing an N95 mask, do not wear one.

If you are not vaccinated, consider wearing an N-95 when when you are:

  • At higher risk of severe illness if you get COVID-19
  • Indoors or outdoors close to unmasked people (like dining or personal services)
  • Indoors with lots of masked people (like grocery store clerks or bus drivers)
  • Going indoors where there are or were unmasked people (like janitors, hotel room service)

Read more about N95 use.

What not to use for COVID-19 prevention

A face covering can be made of cloth, fabric, or other breathable material, but it should not have holes. 

The following are not helpful for COVID-19 prevention:

  • Halloween or plastic masks
  • Ski masks with holes for the nose or mouth
  • Masks that have a one-way valve designed for easier breathing (often a raised plastic disk about the size of a quarter, on the front or side of the mask)

Holes or one-way valves allow droplets out of the mask, exposing people nearby. If you wear one, you should wear another face covering on top that doesn’t have valves.

Keep it clean

If you’re outside your home and your face covering gets wet, have another face covering ready to replace it.

Face coverings should be washed frequently. Ideally, wash them after each use in the warmest water possible and dry on the highest heat setting and leave in the dryer until completely dry.

Clean your hands before and after touching your face, or face coverings.

The CDC has instructions on how to wear and clean your face covering

Last updated October 15, 2021