COVID-19 Day 78: SF’s New Mask Rules

San Francisco and other Bay Area counties have released revised rules on mask-wearing due to COVID-19. And some are not just onerous but nonsensical.

For example, it says that you have to wear a mask outdoors if you’re within 30ft of another person?! But you don’t have to wear a mask if you’re outdoors exercising. So I guess that means as long as you’re wearing a sweatband and looking like you’re speed-walking, you never have to wear a mask.


You must wear a face covering when you are:

  • Waiting in line to go inside a store
  • Shopping at a store
  • On public transportation (or waiting for it)
  • In a taxi or rideshare vehicle
  • Seeking healthcare
  • Going into facilities allowed to stay open, like government buildings
  • Working a job that interacts with others
  • Walking outside and you see someone within 30 feet (about the length of a MUNI bus)

You will not be allowed to go into a business or public transportation if you are not wearing a face covering.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you’re driving yourself or others in your family.

Staying home is still the best protection

Covering your face does not change the shelter in place order, which requires people to stay home as much as possible and maintain physical distancing by staying 6 feet from others.

Cloth face coverings, when combined with physical distancing and hand washing, may prevent transmission of coronavirus by reducing respiratory droplets.

Why this is a requirement: face coverings protect others

As COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms, cloth face coverings, when combined with physical distancing and hand washing, may prevent the spread of the virus to others when going outside for essential activities. Cloth face coverings must cover your nose and mouth.

Covering your face is about helping others. By covering your face when you go out for essential reasons, you are being a good neighbor and community member.

When a face covering is not needed

Face coverings are not required to be worn when:

  • At home (if you are not around someone at higher risk from COVID-19)
  • In your car alone or if you’re only with members of your household
  • Sitting or standing with people you live with (such as picnicking outside) and you are more than 6 feet from other groups
  • Exercising outdoors alone or with people who live with you (walking, hiking, bicycling, or running)

You should still have a face covering with you. It should be readily accessible when exercising, like hanging around your neck. There might be times where you cannot avoid being around other people.

You should put on your face covering if you see someone within 30 feet of you (about the length of a MUNI bus).

If a mask is too tight, try a looser fitting option like a gaiter or bandana.

Certain groups are not required to wear a face covering


Children under 2 years old must not wear a face covering. They may suffocate.

Children 3 to 12 years old are not required to wear a face covering. If they do, they should be supervised by an adult. Supervision may look different based on the age and maturity of the child. For some children, having a discussion may be enough.  For younger children, parents and caretakers should be present during use by the child. Parents and caregivers should use their judgement.

Health and safety reasons

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

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. If you have a chronic respiratory condition, you should get documentation from a medical professional.

If you have documentation showing a medical professional has told you not to wear a face covering, you do not have to wear one.

You can make your own face covering

There are several options for face coverings, as long as they cover the nose and mouth. Face coverings can be made of a variety of cloth materials, such as bandanas, scarves, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

The CDC has simple instructions on how to make your own face covering without having to sew. All you need is an old T-shirt, or a bandana with 2 rubber bands or hair ties.

What not to use

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

The following do not qualify as a face covering, and do not comply with the order:

  • Halloween or plastic masks
  • Ski masks with holes for the nose or mouth
  • Masks that have a one-way valve designed for easier breathing (the valves are 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, putting others nearby at risk.  

Keep it clean

If you’re outside your home and your face covering gets wet, keep wearing it. It will still protect others.

Face coverings should be washed frequently. Ideally, wash them after each use and have a dedicated laundry bag or bin. 

Always wash your hands, or use hand sanitizer, before and after touching your face or face coverings.

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

Save masks for the healthcare workers on the front lines

N-95 and surgical masks are in short supply, and need to be conserved for health workers on the frontlines.

We are managing our supply levels closely and providing health workers and first responders with medical-grade PPE that is aligned with the latest evidence-based science, and appropriate for their work duties.

If you are currently using a medical mask, keep using it as long as possible – until it becomes dirty or damaged – due to the limited supply.

Donating face coverings and masks

Donate face coverings and medical supplies at Give2SF. You can also make a tax-deductible contribution towards the City’s coronavirus response. 

We can also accept medical supplies for health care workers and first responders. Note that we are currently only accepting donations in specific quantities and criteria.

At home

You are not required to use a face covering at home.  But if you or someone at home is sick, you can use a face covering to reduce exposure. If you live with someone at higher risk from COVID-19, everyone at home should wear a face covering when around others, if possible.

You should contact your healthcare provider if you or someone in your home is sick.

For transit

You must wear a face covering when you are riding on public transit, or in a taxi, rideshare vehicle or private town car. 

If you operate a taxi, rideshare vehicle, or private town car, you must always wear a face covering even if no one else is in the vehicle with you. This will avoid breathing droplets that could contaminate areas where customers will sit and touch.


Business must require face coverings for employees and customers. See details about operating an essential or outdoor business.

Businesses must also provide their staff with face coverings. See shops that are selling PPE.


We do not recommend wearing gloves as a prevention measure. Washing your hands often throughout the day and regularly cleaning surfaces you touch often, like doorknobs and countertops, is a better way to prevent infection.

See official health orders

Order of the Health Officer No. C19-12b (May 28, 2020), requiring face coverings when you leave your home.

Order of the Health Officer No. C19-12 (April 17, 2020), requiring face coverings when shopping, getting healthcare, or taking transit.Last updated May 28, 2020

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