L.A. County set to lift indoor mask rules, vaccination proof at bars. What will change
Los Angeles County’s public health director announced Tuesday that the county is likely to lift its indoor mask order on Friday.
The move means L.A. County will probably lift the order earlier than anticipated; it had been anticipated to take place in mid- or late March.
What may change Friday?
It’s expected that L.A. County will officially lift its indoor mask order effective Friday, a mandate put in place in July, according to L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. That policy change would affect public places such as bars, stores, offices, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters.
Businesses can choose to retain their mask requirement for customers and employees. And residents can choose to wear a mask when entering any public place.
California and L.A. County officials, however, are still “strongly recommending” mask use in indoor public settings.
The state will continue to require mask use in indoor K-12 settings until March 11. Starting March 12, school operators can decide whether to require masks in indoor public settings.
The order by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requiring masks to be worn on public transportation, including planes, remains in effect. So do orders from the California Department of Public Health, which mandate mask-wearing in healthcare settings, nursing homes, homeless shelters, jails, prisons and emergency shelters.
What about vaccination verification orders?
Ferrer also announced plans to relax some of the vaccine verification rules in L.A. County. She said vaccine verification will no longer be required at outdoor mega-events — such as at SoFi and Dodger stadiums, the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and the Hollywood Bowl — and will no longer be required in indoor portions of bars, lounges, nightclubs, distilleries, wineries and breweries.
But vaccine verification or a recent negative test will still be required at indoor mega-events — events with more than 1,000 people, such as NBA games at Crypto.com Arena, formerly known as the Staples Center — which remains a statewide requirement. Vaccination verification is also required for healthcare workers and employees at nursing homes.
Ferrer’s plans don’t affect stricter local vaccine verification orders, such as those implemented by the city of Los Angeles and West Hollywood. A city of L.A. ordinance, known as SafePassLA, requires businesses such as bars as well as indoor restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to check that customers are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Cities in Northern California with similar vaccine verification rules include Oakland and Berkeley. San Francisco requires customers of indoor gyms, restaurants and bars to either show proof of being up to date on vaccination — including a booster shot if eligible — or proof of a recent negative coronavirus test.
New York City plans to lift its “Key to NYC” vaccination requirements on Monday, which require proof of vaccination for customers in indoor dining settings, gyms and other venues. But Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement that other vaccine mandates in the city would remain in place, such as those for many private employees and city employees.
Why is L.A. County’s mask order lifting on Friday?
L.A. County is responding to new guidelines issued by the CDC late last week, which relaxes the criteria by which the federal agency recommends that everyone wear masks in indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC classified L.A. County last week as being in a “high” COVID-19 community level, in which the agency still recommends universal mask-wearing.
But the latest data trends suggest it’s likely that L.A. County will emerge out of a “high” COVID-19 community level on Thursday and enter either a “medium” community level or a “low” community level. The CDC is expected to update its placement of counties by COVID-19 community level each Thursday.
Data shown elsewhere on the CDC’s website already suggest L.A. County is eligible for sliding into the “medium” community level, in which the CDC suggests that higher-risk people may choose to wear a mask in indoor settings.
Why is L.A. County so confident of leaving the ‘high’ COVID community level?
L.A. County is currently reporting a coronavirus case rate of 237 cases a week for every 100,000 residents, according to data published on the CDC’s website Tuesday afternoon, reflecting data through Monday.
Based on that case rate, L.A. County would need to get hospitalization levels under a certain threshold to exit the “high” community level — recording less than 20 new coronavirus-positive hospital admissions per week for every 100,000 residents; and less than 15% of staffed inpatient hospital beds being occupied by coronavirus-positive hospital patients, an indicator of hospital capacity.
L.A. County has already met those thresholds, with 7.77 new coronavirus-positive hospital admissions per week for every 100,000 residents, and 6.57% of staffed inpatient hospital beds being occupied by coronavirus-positive hospital patients.
But the CDC officially updates its placement of counties by COVID-19 community level only once a week. Once the CDC acts on Thursday, Ferrer said the L.A. County health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, is prepared to issue a new health order with the relaxed rules later that day, and go into effect on Friday.
Why are officials still recommending wearing masks?
Ferrer said she’s strongly recommending everyone still wear masks in indoor public settings until the risk for the most vulnerable further reduces.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, also said this week that he’s strongly recommending mask use indoors statewide to further protect the vulnerable until case rates drop.
Wearing a mask will still help protect children still too young to be vaccinated as well as people who are at greater risk for worrisome complications from COVID-19 even if they are vaccinated, such as older people, those with weakened immune systems and people with chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, lung disease and heart disease.
Continuing to wear a mask will also help reduce the chance of infection that could lead to “long COVID,” which can affect people who did not suffer symptoms from their coronavirus infection. Long COVID can result in difficulty breathing, symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities, and difficulty thinking or concentrating, sometimes referred to as brain fog.
Health experts say it remains prudent to avoid getting infected. Months from now, it’s expected that the risk of severe illness and death will be further reduced as more quantities of anti-COVID drugs such as Paxlovid become available in greater supply.
What other areas still have mask orders in California?
Most California counties, including San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, allowed a universal indoor mask order issued by the state in mid-December to expire in mid-February.
The cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, which operate their own public health departments independent of L.A. County, followed suit on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The city of Palm Springs had retained a mask order that lifted on Monday.
Santa Clara County, Northern California’s most populous county, is one of the last counties in that region to still retain a mask order and is lifting it on Wednesday. Mendocino County still retains a local mask order but is expected to reassess the need for the order in the coming weeks.
Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.
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