State eases mask rules; county stands pat

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The state has lifted its COVID-19 indoor mask-wearing requirement for vaccinated people, effective Feb. 16, but Los Angeles County will continue enforcing its own indoor face-covering rules, despite growing dissent among the Board of Supervisors.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger previously called on the county to align with the state and lift its indoor mask mandate, saying it creates too much confusion and frustration among residents to have stricter local rules.

On Feb. 15, Supervisor Janice Hahn joined Barger in that call — pointing to rampant violations of the county’s outdoor mask-wearing rule during the Super Bowl Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium.

“Businesses, schools and churches were fined or shut down for far less,” Hahn said during this week’s board meeting. “And yet it seems like when we have something high-profile, like the Super Bowl or the Emmys, the rules just don’t seem to matter any more.

“I believe that our health orders are only effective if people believe in them, if they think they are fair and if they follow them,” Hahn added. “And keeping mandates in place that aren’t followed just erodes the credibility the public has in us as policy makers to make good sound decisions.

“And I think the longer we drag our feet on lifting the indoor mask mandate, the more out of step we get from the state and more trust that we’re losing from the public.”

The other three members of the Board of Supervisors — Holly Mitchell, Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl — still support leaving the county’s indoor mask mandate in place until criteria outlined by Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer are met.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that the indoor mask mandate in most other locations would be lifted for vaccinated people, noting a 65% drop in the virus infection rate since the peak of the winter surge caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, as well as a stabilization in hospitalization numbers.

But he stressed that “unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks indoors.”

The mask-wearing requirement will also remain in effect for everyone in other select indoor locations —schools, public transit centers, airports, emergency shelters, health care facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and long-term care and senior-care facilities.

Unvaccinated people will have to continue wearing masks in indoor settings such as retail stores, restaurants, theaters and government offices. It will be left to individual businesses to enforce the rule.

The state announced it will continue requiring indoor masking at schools until at least Feb. 28, when health officials plan to reassess pandemic metrics and determine if that rule can be lifted. The announcement came despite earlier indications from Newsom that the school mask rule would be lifted, but he received some pushback from teachers’ unions.

Mask requirements will remain in effect in Los Angeles County for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in indoor settings until the county’s level of virus transmission falls to the “moderate” level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for two straight weeks. It also would be lifted once COVID vaccines are available for children under age 5 for a total of eight weeks. It was unclear when federal authorities will approve vaccines for that age group.

Reaching the CDC’s “moderate” transmission level requires the county to have a cumulative, seven-day new case rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. According to the CDC’s website, the county’s rate was 458 per 100,000 residents as of Feb. 15.

Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors that at that current pace the rate has been falling, the county is projected to reach the “moderate” classification on March 16. That would mean the mask mandate would be lifted by March 30 — if no new “variants of concern” of the COVID virus materialize.

Barger recognized that there is an end in sight to the mask mandate, but she said the county should move faster, align with the state and lift the requirement right away.

Ferrer noted that the mandate might be lifted sooner in some indoor locations where other “layers of protection” are in place, such as mandatory COVID vaccinations or testing. She said the Public Health Department could be prepared as early as next week to bring a recommendation forward for such an easing of the rule in select locations.

Los Angeles County’s requirement that people wear masks at outdoor mega-events and outdoors at schools and childcare centers was lifted Feb. 16. That decision was made when the county met the previously announced guideline of virus-related hospitalizations remaining below 2,500 for seven straight days.

 

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