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New California Mask Order Requires Diners to Wear Face Coverings When Servers Approach

It’s a rule that’s been in place in SF for a while, but no one seems to follow it

New York City Restaurants Resume Indoor Service At 25% Capacity
The diner to the left is a good example of how to follow California’s mask guidelines. The diner on the right has room for improvement.
Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

As coronavirus case numbers skyrocket in California, officials have announced a new, more restrictive face covering policy for everyone in the state. As part of the regulations, Californians must don a face covering any time they are within six feet of someone who’s not a member of their household, even when dining out.

The Bay Area News Group reports that California’s daily average number of of COVID-19 cases has doubled in the last two weeks, with 13,609 new cases reported on Monday, November 16, alone. The rapid uptick prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to announce Monday that 41 of California’s 58 counties must return to the most restrictive tier on the state’s color-coded reopening plan, shuttering activities like indoor dining in places that hadn’t voluntarily discontinued it already, and closing down all distilleries, breweries, and bars that don’t also serve food.

In the Bay Area, that means that Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Napa, and Solano counties are now in the “purple” tier, which means that indoor dining must cease as of Tuesday, November 17. Of those counties, only Alameda, Napa, and Solano had open dining rooms, while the other areas had preemptively shut down dining rooms this week. Meanwhile, San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties were moved back into the red tier, which allows indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. Of those regions, only San Mateo county remains open for indoor meals.

“We are seeing community spread broadly across the entire state,” Newsom said Monday, which is why the state has also announced tighter restrictions for its mask mandate. California has had a law requiring face coverings since June 18, but this new one is slightly more specific, saying that “a face covering is required at all times when outside of the home.”

The new mandate calls out restaurant behavior specifically, saying diners may only remove their masks when “actively eating or drinking” and only then if “they are able to maintain a distance of at least six feet away from persons who are not members of the same household or residence.” But while eating out, even outdoors, diners “must have a face covering with them at all times and must put it on if they are within 6 feet of others who are not in their household.” For example, their servers.

This requirement to pull up your mask when a restaurant worker approaches has been the rule in San Francisco since July, when the city mandated the following guidelines (bold type added by Eater):

[Customers] must wear face coverings any time they are not eating or drinking, including but not limited to: while they are waiting to be seated; while reviewing the menu and ordering; while socializing at a table waiting for their food and drinks to be served or after courses or the meal is complete; and any time they leave the table, such as to use a restroom. Customers must also wear face coverings any time servers, bussers, or other Personnel approach their table.

And yet, it’s a rule that’s rarely followed or enforced, despite a sign campaign illustrating the requirement that launched in August. The rule seems so rarely observed that multiple times a week, Eater SF is sent photos from Bay Area restaurants touting their outdoor dining setups that depict unmasked diners within inches of restaurant staffers, and major local outlets publish multiple photos of the rule being broken as part of unrelated coverage.

The expectation from San Francisco — and now, from the state — is that restaurant workers will enforce the mandate. That’s a big ask, given everything else that servers must grapple with, from temperature checks to spaced seating to explaining why diners must order a meal with their cocktail. Expecting them to also remind diners, every time they walk up, that they must remask seems like the road to a low tip — or at least a nasty Yelp review.

It’s unclear if the state will increase enforcement of its mask rules, now that they’re even stricter. But those who feel their freedoms are being infringed upon when it comes to face coverings should brace for even more restrictions: At the same media event in which Newsom announced the reopening rollback and new mask order, he also said that “we also are considering, full disclosure and a bit of a preview, the notion of a curfew.” If that moves forward, as a similar plan has in New York, diners might not have to worry about masking up, as they’ll be enjoying their evening meal alone at home.