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What you need to know about L.A. County’s new relaxed indoor mask rules

People visit Venice Beach.
Visitors enjoy the mild weather at Venice Beach on Feb. 17.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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Big changes are coming to L.A. County’s coronavirus regulations.

At indoor businesses and offices that verify vaccination status, people who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to wear masks starting Friday, county health officials announced Wednesday.

Here’s what we know:

What is changing?

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday, establishments that want to allow fully vaccinated customers to go maskless indoors can do so — as long as they verify that all customers are either fully vaccinated or have recently tested negative for the coronavirus.

The revised rules take effect 12:01 a.m. Friday and will make masking optional indoors in certain settings that screen the vaccination status of patrons.

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At such places, people who are fully vaccinated — and have documentation of their status — can choose to take off their mask.

People who are not fully vaccinated can still enter indoor establishments with relaxed masking rules but must show proof of a recent negative coronavirus test — and they still need to wear a mask indoors.

Businesses can also choose to keep masking indoors.

Vaccines and boosters proved highly effective against serious illness from Omicron. But what is also clear is that the defense afforded by vaccines wanes over time.

What are the details?

L.A. County officials on Wednesday offered two scenarios for how this would work, depending on whether fully vaccinated employees remain masked.

Option 1: Both customers and workers

In these cases, workers and customers ages 5 and older would need to show proof of full vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test to enter.

Fully vaccinated people would be able to unmask indoors only if they provide proof of their status.

Those who are not fully vaccinated can still enter — provided they have a recent negative test result — but would need to wear a mask indoors.

Option 2: Customers only

Workers would remain masked indoors and not be required to show proof of either vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test to continue working.

Customers would need to comply with the requirements in the first option.

Can fully vaccinated people still mask up indoors if they want?

Yes.

The timetable to lift the indoor mask mandate potentially could be even shorter if the federal guidance on face coverings changes.

What about unvaccinated people?

Unvaccinated individuals would still need to wear masks indoors. That rule is in place statewide.

What indoors spaces are eligible for optional masking?

A wide variety, from gyms and bars to restaurants and offices. The key is whether the business checks for vaccination status of anyone entering. Places without vaccine verification will remain subject to L.A. County’s standing indoor mask mandate, which applies to all residents regardless of vaccination status.

When will the pandemic end? Experts say it’s far too soon to declare victory.

How is vaccine status verified?

The county says in its guidelines that businesses can accept physical or digital vaccine records. Visitors from out of state can provide similar documentation issued by their local government.

More information on acceptable records, and how to access them, is available here.

What businesses already are required to verify vaccine status?

Existing L.A. County regulations require proof of COVID-19 vaccination at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, distilleries, nightclubs and lounges.

Broader rules are in place in the city of L.A., covering additional indoor retail businesses and venues including restaurants, movie theaters, hair and nail salons, coffee shops, gyms, museums, bowling alleys and performance venues.

Why is L.A. County still requiring masks?

Though California has lifted its statewide universal indoor masking mandate, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said she thinks transmission is still too high to completely follow suit.

The county will do so when it reaches “moderate transmission” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and remains there for seven days. That would mean recording fewer than 730 new coronavirus cases a day over a weekly period.

The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, including cases, deaths, closures and restrictions.

The county’s current case rate remains almost four times higher than that. However, given how rapidly transmission is waning, Ferrer has said she thinks the region could be positioned to relax the rule by mid- to late March.

That slower timeline has not been without controversy, however. Some residents and elected officials have pushed the county to more immediately align its rules with the state.

“I still think that the better and less confusing approach would be to fully align with the state of California, but this is a welcome step in the right direction as our cases decline and we learn to live with this virus,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement Wednesday.


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