The state of California will lift its COVID-19 indoor mask-wearing requirement for vaccinated people next week, but the move won’t have any immediate impact in Los Angeles County, which has its own mandate for indoor face coverings in place.
State officials announced Monday the indoor mask wearing requirement for vaccinated people will expire at the end of the day Feb. 15. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the move is the result of a 65% drop in the 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 Newsom stressed that “unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks indoors.” The mask-wearing requirement will also remain in effect for everyone in select indoor locations, such as public transit centers, airports, schools, 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.
The change in state policy will affect counties that do not have local mandates of their own governing face coverings — such as Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties. In Los Angeles County, mask requirements will remain in effect for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in indoor settings, as well as at large outdoor mega-events, such as Sunday’s Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium.
Last week, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer unveiled metrics for a possible relaxing of the county’s masking orders, saying the mandate will be dropped at outdoor “mega-events” and outdoors at schools and child-care centers if COVID-positive hospitalizations in the county fall below 2,500 for seven consecutive days. As of Monday, there were 2,773 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals.
Lifting the indoor masking requirement in the county will require a more stringent standard. According to Ferrer, that requirement will not be lifted until the county’s level of transmission falls to the “moderate” level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and stays there for two straight weeks.
Reaching the “moderate” designation 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 1,098 per 100,000 residents as of Monday. In addition to maintaining the “moderate” rate for two weeks, indoor mask-wearing requirements will only be lifted if there aren’t any newly circulating “variants of concern” of the COVID virus, Ferrer said.
Ferrer and county Board of Supervisors Chair Holly Mitchell both insisted last week that COVID transmission is still too high locally to lift mask mandates. Ferrer said Monday the high number of daily deaths being reported show the lingering danger of the virus.
“Despite the encouraging news of declining cases, test positivity and hospitalizations, sadly we continue to see a high number of people dying due to COVID-19,” Ferrer said in a statement. “With an average of 70 deaths reported each day last week, it remains clear that residents who are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, or living in low-resourced communities, face additional risk and are more likely to become seriously ill and die from COVID- 19.
“Along with the significant protection provided by vaccines and boosters, we will need to continue to layer on additional protections to protect those most vulnerable from the worst outcomes, many of which are our loved ones and colleagues,” Ferrer said. “Numerous individuals living in hard- hit communities are low-wage workers who face multiple exposures daily at their jobs and then return to high density communities where virus transmission is easier. Recognizing that these workers are the mainstay of our economy, and our recovery, requires aligning collective actions that reduce transmission at workplaces.”
The county reported another 29 deaths and 4,360 new COVID cases on Monday — numbers that are likely artificially low due to reporting delays from the weekend. The 29 new deaths lifted the county’s COVID death toll to 29,457, while the new infections gave the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 2,731,409.
The 2,773 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals was down from 2,841 on Sunday. The number of those patients in intensive care was 592 as of Monday, down seven from one day earlier.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 5% as of Monday, the same as Sunday.