Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Mask-wearing mandates on Southland rail and bus lines were slowly lifted April 19 in response to a federal judge’s ruling, with face coverings now being deemed a strong recommendation rather than a requirement.
After continuing to enforce the mask requirement on its buses and trains for much of the day, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it was scrapping the mandate for passengers and drivers.
“However, it is important to recognize that we still live in a pandemic, thus face masks will continue to be strongly recommended on public transit to keep ourselves and those around us safe,” County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who chairs the MTA Board of Directors, said in a statement. “I urge our residents to continue to remain vigilant and look out for one another as we move forward.”
Mask-wearing requirements on transit operations were thrown into doubt April 18 when U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle issued a ruling in Florida saying the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority by mandating face coverings on mass transportation.
Most major airlines — including Southwest, Delta Air Lines, American and United — quickly made mask-wearing optional in response to the ruling. The Transportation Security Administration also announced that it would no longer enforce the mask rule at airports — hence face coverings are now optional at Los Angeles International Airport, Hollywood Burbank Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
Metrolink officials also opted to drop the mandate on its commuter rail lines and stations, making it only a recommendation.
The ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft also dropped mask mandates for drivers and passengers, saying face coverings are still recommended.
The Los Angeles city Department of Transportation was still asking passengers to wear masks on its DASH and Commuter Express buses. Some other city transit agencies were also still maintaining the requirements, including the Culver City Bus Line.
The CDC first issued an order mandating masks on public conveyances in January 2021, saying “traveling on public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
“Air travel often requires spending time in security lines and busy airport terminals,” the agency stated. “Travel by bus, train and other conveyances used for international, interstate or intrastate transportation poses similar challenges.”
Mask mandates have slowly been lifted in many settings in recent weeks. Los Angeles County and the state have scrapped requirements for masks at outdoor and indoor mega-events, and face coverings are no longer mandatory in most indoor environments.
Mask requirements inside school classrooms have also been lifted, and face coverings are now only strongly recommended at L.A. County campuses. Masks are also “strongly recommended,” but not required, on school buses.
The county still requires masks at health-care facilities.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Los Angeles County ticked upward again April 19, continuing a recent trend of increases, but the figure still remained low overall, at just 2.8%.
The rolling seven-day average daily positivity rate was below 1% late last month, but it has risen gradually in recent days — concurrent with the spread of the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19. BA.2, an offshoot of the Omicron variant that sparked a winter surge in infections, is now the dominant strain of the virus in the county, believed to represent 67% of new cases.
According to figures provided by the county Department of Public Health, the daily testing-positivity rate April 13 was 1.6%, but it has steadily ticked upward. It was 2.6% April 18.
County health officials have noted a steady rise in daily virus infection numbers, also attributed to BA.2. But while cases have climbed, the number of people becoming seriously ill due to the virus has not. The number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals has remained fairly steady in recent weeks, with the number at 226 April 19, according to state figures.
That was up slightly from 221 the day before. Of the COVID-positive patients, only 26 are being treated in intensive care.
The county reported 857 new COVID infections, giving the county a cumulative pandemic total of 2,854,567. Another 12 deaths were also confirmed, lifting the overall death toll to 31,884.