The state of California will lift its COVID-19 indoor mask-wearing requirement for vaccinated people Wednesday, but the rule will remain in place in Los Angeles County, which plans to maintain its indoor face-covering regulation until virus transmission falls more dramatically.
Masks will also continue to be required statewide in select indoor settings, most notably in schools. The school mask-wearing mandate will be in place across California until at least Feb. 28, when health officials plan to reassess pandemic metrics and determine if it can be lifted.
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 — 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.
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. According to Los Angeles County, the 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. It would also 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 Tuesday. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said the rate is dropping steadily, and the county could reach the “moderate” classification within a month.
In addition to maintaining the “moderate” rate for two weeks or having vaccines available to young children for eight 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.
Los Angeles County’s requirement that people wear masks at outdoor mega-events and outdoors at schools and childcare centers is on pace to lift Wednesday, Feb. 16. The county’s guidelines call for the requirement to be lifted once virus-related hospitalizations remain below 2,500 for seven straight days. Tuesday marked the sixth straight day of meeting that requirement, with hospitalizations at 1,995, according to state figures.