Masking! In Homes!

The horrors never cease.

green surgical masks on green background
Covid-19 by Prachatai licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

A link from an aggregator sent me to a story at National Review which in turn sent me to one from earlier in the week titled “California County Mandates Masks in Private Homes.” You may be shocked to learn that it’s mostly alarmist bullshit.

Here’s the NR report:

Amid the spike in COVID cases in the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Cruz County has imposed a sweeping indoor mask mandate for private settings including homes.

For those gathering with people who don’t live in the same household, masks should be worn inside regardless of vaccination status, the county announced Monday. The guidelines also apply to businesses, with exceptions for eating and drinking.

Santa Cruz County was the first in California to drop its indoor mask mandate but is reinstating it as COVID cases rise.

“Unfortunately, a potential winter surge appears to be a significant threat to the health and safety of our community,” Dr. Gail Newel, Santa Cruz County’s health officer, said in a press release. Newel said the guidance is to protect vulnerable friends and family members from the disease.

As its enforcement mechanism, the county is demanding that businesses and governmental entities require their staff to wear masks as well as display instructional signs about masking-wearing at storefronts. Newel told the Sentinel on Friday that establishments must comply by Monday.

“If you are gathering with extended family and friends, especially those who have traveled from outside the area or who are unvaccinated, caution is best,” Newel said. “We want to try to get used to the idea of living with this virus and getting back to some sort of normalcy in activities, including being able to gather with people that we love and not have to withhold ourselves from our kids, our grandkids or our grandparents.”

So, already, the headline is rather dubious. There is no mandate for people to wear masks with their family at home. They’re simply strongly suggesting—with no enforcement mechanism behind it—that people exercise caution when gathering with non-family members in private homes, particularly if they’re unvaccinated.

The “county announced Monday” link takes us to a San Francisco ABC7 report that says, relevant part in full,

Indoor mask mandate in effect in Santa Cruz Co.

An indoor mask mandate is now in effect in Santa Cruz County and it covers private settings like a home. If you are getting together with others who don’t live in the same household the county says you should mask up regardless of vaccination status. Businesses are also required to follow the guidelines. You can take off your mask when eating or drinking.

So, I at least get where the language is coming from. But, if you are trying to understand what it is the county is announcing, the best bet is, almost surely, the county. It took a few clicks but I found the actual memorandum from the county, dated November 19 and titled “SANTA CRUZ COUNTY HEALTH OFFICER ISSUES ORDER REQUIRING USE OF
.” Most of it is already quoted in the NR piece but here’s the nut ‘graph:

Masks must be worn in private settings, including your home, when non-household members are present. To help assure compliance, all businesses and governmental entities must require employees to wear masks and post signage that is clearly visible and easy-to-read at all entry points for indoor settings informing the public of the mask requirement. Those working in a closed room or office alone or with members of their household do not have to wear a mask, and masks are not required during indoor activities where they cannot be worn safely such as eating, drinking, swimming, showering in a fitness facility, or obtaining medical or cosmetic services.

But, again, there’s no enforcement mechanism for anything happening in private homes. This amounts to a suggestion. And it’s pretty much what was “mandated” statewide in Virginia last March.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. gVOR08 says:

    But, but, it says “mandate” right there in the announcement. How can you say it’s not a mandate just because it’s obvious to any casual observer that it won’t be enforced, and couldn’t be even if anyone wanted to.

    As I sometimes read TAC so no one else has to, let me point to a green shoot of progress. They have a post, Our Rebel Thanksgiving, reprinted from a year ago. It’s some rando described only as “a writer who lives in North Carolina” saying he represents the simple farmers, the common clay of the new West. In comments he’s outed as a PhD in Poli Sci and head of a non-profit think tank, i.e., a conservative grifter.

    He was having a big T’giving family dinner and wrote a whole lot of silly snark about defying the governor. The green shoot is that almost all the comments are condemnatory and derisive. A number point out that a private act he knows is not subject to enforcement is pretty weak grounds for calling himself a rebel. Others point out the virus isn’t much impressed by his posturing.

  2. de stijl says:

    People get primed for outrage and seek it out even if they know it’s 90% bullshit – hyped way beyond what the context implies, or they get obsessed with these tiny local stories that they believe have massive implications.

    Perma-outrage. It is a bad thing that is addictive and feeds itself. Some lefties have fallen for the same trap.

  3. Slugger says:

    I strongly support most of the public health measures that are trying to blunt this epidemic, but some aspects of masking don’t make sense to me. I stopped in a tavern the other day. The staff was masked. Patrons were masked until their order arrived. Does setting a beer in front of me make me incapable of transmitting virus? Please understand that I am fully vaxxed and not avocating Ivermectin.

  4. Kathy says:


    The thing is not to go out to eat or drink indoors during a pandemic.

    In an area with high rates of vaccination, and in a restaurant or bar that checks vaccination status, the risk might be small, though not necessarily worth it.

  5. Gustopher says:

    @Slugger: a straw slipped under the mask would be better, yes.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Slugger: Cost/benefit. While you’re just sitting there, there’s a small reduction in risk from masking and it costs nothing. Once your beer arrives, the cost of masking goes up from nothing to not being able to drink your beer.

    I saw a tee shirt this morning, haven’t found it again, but the front text was something like I’M VACCINATED AND I’M WEARING A MASK BECAUSE I HAVE TRUST ISSUES AND Y’ALL LOOK NASTY. I’m vaxxed and boostered and eat outside because a) It’s SW FL and I can, although for dinner yesterday temp had plummeted to 70; and b) why would I sit shoulder to shoulder inside with a bunch of mouth breathing hillbillies who likely aren’t vaxxed.

  7. Dude Kembro says:

    Anything to keep America divided with phony outrage and culture war idiocy, so Republicans can get in to gut the middle class and give billionaires another tax cut.

    Tantamount to the fake “War On Thanksgiving” that consistents of a handful of tweets, social media posts, and articles nobody cares about.

    Meanwhile, over in reality, liberals and Democrats are too busy enjoying Thanksgiving to push back on bullshit claims that they’re raging against Thanksgiving.