Back On [For Now] - Mask Mandate Returns To Bay Area Counties Amidst Delta Variant Surge

What’s Changed?

Effective August 3, 2021, health officials in seven Bay Area counties as well as the City of Berkeley reinstated mask mandates in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status in an effort to curb the surge in COVID-19 cases on account of the delta variant. In addition to the City of Berkeley (updated order available here), the counties following reinstated indoor mask mandates include:

  • Alameda (updated health order available here);
  • Contra Costa (updated health order available here);
  • Marin (updated health order available here);
  • Santa Clara (updated health order available here);
  • San Francisco (updated health order available here);
  • San Mateo (updated health order available here); and
  • Sonoma (updated health order available here).

The orders are consistent with a previously issued July 16, 2021 press release, wherein these seven counties and the City of Berkeley strongly recommending that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in public places to limit the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19. 

The changes in local Bay Area mask requirements draw upon revised July 2021 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (available here) and the California Department of Public Health (available here), both of which updated their June 15, 2021 guidance (which dropped universal mask mandates) to strongly recommend indoor masking for both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. Prior to the August 3, 2021, Sacramento,[1] Los Angeles[2] and Yolo[3] counties had already mandated masks in indoor public settings, with a few exceptions.

Indoor Public Settings

Under the updated Bay Area county orders, “indoor public setting” includes businesses and government owned offices/facilities, meaning employees working in shared spaces without doors and/or using common areas, such as breakrooms, will need to adhere to the universal mask mandate unless their activities fall under one of the exceptions enumerated in the revised health orders. “Indoor public setting” also includes privately owned retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, fitness centers, etc., which are used by multiple individuals at any given time.


Although these updated local orders mandate that all persons, including fully vaccinated individuals, wear a mask in public indoor settings, they set forth certain exceptions, including:

  • Active eating or drinking (e.g., at restaurants, bars or at work);
  • Working alone in rooms that are closed/sealed (i.e., rooms with doors);
  • Driving in a motor vehicle, either alone or exclusively with other members of the same household;
  • Swimming or showering in public gyms/fitness facilities;
  • Medical/cosmetic services involving the face, which cannot be performed without removing a face covering;
  • Instances where use of face coverings are exempted under California Department of Public Health guidance, including:
    • Persons younger than two years old.
    • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask.
    • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
    • Persons 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.

Certain of the seven county orders list several additional exceptions. For instance, San Francisco’s order provides an exception for indoor recreational sports, live or recorded performances, sleeping in indoor public settings, and religious gatherings where people are encouraged to maintain as much physical distance as possible.

Notice and Signage

The updated orders also require businesses and governmental entities to post conspicuous signage at all entry points reminding employees and patrons about masking requirements and prevention related best practices. Certain of the orders (e.g., San Francisco) also include templates business may use in connection with the signage requirements in the orders.

Interplay With Other Regulations

On June 17, 2021, Cal-OSHA introduced revised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (“ETS”), which – consistent with the State’s June 15, 2021 orders – relaxed masking requirements for vaccinated individuals. The updated Bay Area local health orders temporarily supersede the less restrictive masking requirements in Cal-OSHA’s ETS. 

The orders do not contain any phase out or end dates, since health authorities are continuing to monitor the rise of COVID-19 cases.

What should employers do?

  • Update Your COVID-19 Prevention Plans (“CPPs”) – Employers operating in the seven counties noted above and/or the City of Berkeley whose current CPPs do not require universal masking should immediately update their CPPs to conform with current local guidelines.
  • Continue to Follow COVID-19 Related State and Local Regulations – While mask mandates in certain local orders have been updated, the orders make clear that businesses and governmental entities must continue to follow Cal-OSHA and other currently effective State regulations with respect to the type of permitted face coverings, supplemental pay leave, testing, the exclusion of employees exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, etc.
  • Contact Counsel For Further Inquiries – In the event you are unsure whether your setting qualifies as a public indoor space under the updated Bay Area orders or if you have specific implementation related questions, we encourage you to contact Hopkins & Carley’s employment attorneys.

If you have questions about county mask mandates or if you have questions on any other issues relating to employment law, please contact one of our attorneys.

[1] Sacramento County’s health order (available here) directs that effective July 30, 2021, face coverings be worn regardless of vaccination status in all indoor workplaces and public settings.

[2] On July 16, 2021, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health issued an order (available here) requiring all individuals to wear face coverings in “[a]ll indoor public settings, venues, gatherings, and public and private businesses.”

[3] Yolo county’s updates heath order (available here) went into effect on July 30, 2021 and also requires indoor masking in public settings regardless of vaccination status.

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