“As the county continues to experience reduced COVID-19 spread, it is appropriate to consider fewer required safety measures, noting that vulnerable individuals should continue to layer in all protections possible,” the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a statement. “Given decreased risk, Public Health is modifying the Health Officer Order to allow establishments, businesses, and venues verifying vaccination status to offer optional masking for fully vaccinated individuals.”
The new health order will go into effect at 12:01 am. Friday, February 25, the department said.
Establishments, businesses and venues must verify that 100% of customers 5 and older are fully vaccinated. If not, they must provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 viral test result. Tests for customers must be taken within two days of entry if a PCR test, or one day if an antigen test. Employees will be allowed to submit a negative test result every three days.
All those who are not fully vaccinated or do not show proof of vaccination are still required to provide a negative test, and continue wearing a well-fitting mask while indoors except when actively eating or drinking.
“As transmission drops and there is less virus circulating, some tools may afford significant protections against the very worst risks associated with COVID,” County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Because vaccines are one of these tools, with lower rates of hospital admissions and COVID hospitalizations, it is appropriate in settings verifying vaccination or negative test status, that we transition to strongly recommending masking instead of requiring masking.”
Last week, California health officials lifted the statewide COVID indoor mask mandate in public settings for vaccinated people. Children, however, are still required to keep their masks on at school.
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Ferrer had previously outlined metrics that would have to be met for the county to drop its indoor mask mandate — metrics that would likely keep the rule in place until the end of March. But dissent grew among the county Board of Supervisors last week when Hahn joined her colleague Kathryn Barger in asking that the county aligns with the state on the indoor masking issue.
Although the majority of the five-member board continued to support the county’s masking rule, Ferrer told the panel last week that the health agency was exploring the possibility of easing the indoor mandate at places where other “layers of protection” are in place, such as mandatory COVID vaccinations or testing.
Previously, Ferrer said the indoor mask rule would remain in place until:
- “The county’s level of COVID transmission falls to the “moderate” level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and remains there for two weeks; OR
- COVID vaccines have been available to residents under age 5 for at least eight weeks; AND
- no emerging COVID variants of concern” have been identified that could spark another surge in cases.
According to Ferrer, reaching the CDC’s “moderate” level of transmission requires the county to have a seven-day cumulative infection rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. As of Monday, the county’s rate was 133 per 100,000 residents.
Ferrer noted that the county’s rate has been steadily declining, and at the current pace, the county would reach the “moderate” designation by March 16, meaning the indoor mask mandate would be lifted by March 30.
Barger argued, however, that maintaining stricter rules than the state created confusion among residents and contributed to a lack of compliance — which was on full display during the recent Super Bowl in Inglewood, where fans almost universally violated the county’s outdoor mask-wearing mandate.
That outdoor masking mandate was lifted last Wednesday — three days after the Super Bowl — for outdoor “mega-events” and outdoor activities at schools and child care centers.
“From a psychosomatic point of view, it’s time,” Kaiser Permanente Orange County Infectious Diseases Dr. Daisy Dodd said. “Nevertheless, as an infectious diseases specialist, I would still recommend that if you have underlying medical problems and that definitely if you have not been immunized, they should be wearing an N95 mask to protect them.”
Masks are still required indoors at schools under a state order that is scheduled to be reviewed again at the end of the month.
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City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.
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