LOS ANGELES, CA – Wearing a mask indoors is no longer mandatory in Los Angeles County, thanks to a new health order that went into effect Friday in response to federal data showing a decrease in the impact of COVID-19 on the county health system.
Effective midnight, mask-wearing went from mandatory to “highly recommended” in most indoor spaces across the county. Mask-wearing is still required in high-risk settings, including health care facilities, transit centers, airports, on public transportation, in correctional facilities, and in homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.
Indoor masks also continue to be required on K-12 school campuses, although the county and state will waive this requirement on March 12. The policy, however, is expected to remain in place in the Los Angeles Unified School District until the end of the school year.
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Despite the relaxation of the requirement, county officials noted that individual businesses can still choose to require face coverings. People are also free to wear masks whenever they want, especially in crowded environments or when interacting with people at higher risk of serious illness from the virus.
Ferrer warned Thursday that despite COVID-related mandates being lifted, people shouldn’t think life is completely returning to normal.
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“It’s very tempting to think that the pandemic is over and we can go back to how things were before the pandemic,” she said. “And although transmission has slowed considerably and we are in a much better place with our powerful tools that are helping so many people avoid the worst effects of this virus, there continue to be thousands of people whose lives, family and work are disrupted every day because they or someone close to them is newly infected with COVID-19, and for some of these people, their infection can and will lead to more serious illness.
County Board of Supervisors Chair Holly Mitchell echoed that sentiment, noting that while countywide COVID measures are improving, some individual communities have higher case rates and greater susceptibility. to the virus.
She said that “as we return to our new low-risk status” it should be clear “at the community level that we cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to ongoing prevention practices”.
“And so, again, hoping that people will do what’s best for them, their families, and their communities by choosing whether or not to continue masking,” she said. “We need to be conscientious and follow the advice, really making sure we put the needs of the county as a whole first with common sense protections that really allow everyone to thrive.”
The mask mandate was lifted following data released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that officially moved the county out of the CDC’s “high” virus activity category and into the ” weak”. The CDC updates its county-level data every Thursday.
The CDC designations are based largely on the number of new virus-related hospital admissions and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients, as well as the overall rate of new COVID cases. of a county.
Ferrer noted that people attending indoor mega-events of 1,000 people or more — such as sporting events — will still need to show proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative test to be admitted. Verification of vaccines or a negative test will also still be required for workers in health facilities and congregate care settings.
But the county dropped its requirement that people show proof of vaccination to attend indoor parties at bars, nightclubs and lounges or outdoor mega-events.
However, a City of Los Angeles ordinance that went into effect Nov. 8 remains in effect. This ordinance requires people over the age of 12 to show proof of vaccination before attending indoor restaurants, gymnasiums, amusement and recreation facilities, personal care facilities, certain city buildings and mega-events. with 5,000 or more attendees in the city of Los Angeles. People can be exempted from this mandate for medical reasons or if they have an “honest religious belief”, and each company is responsible for reviewing exemptions.
City Council President Nury Martinez introduced a motion on Friday to begin the process of possibly overturning the ordinance. But the full council must first agree to do so, and then the city attorney will have to write a new ordinance and bring it back to the council for another vote.
As the county’s mask mandate was lifted, Ferrer warned the virus remains a threat. She said the county will be watching for seven “red flags” that could portend increased virus activity and lead to a resurgence of some limited restrictions. Three of the “red flags” are community-wide measures – emergence of variants of concern, COVID-19 emergency department visits, and cumulative rates of COVID cases in very poor communities.
The other four “red flags” involve specific sectors, tracking outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities, K-12 schools, homeless shelters and construction sites.
If two or more of the signals reach alert levels, this will trigger a county investigation into the reasons for these increases and whether certain specific mitigation measures should be imposed.
Ferrer noted that as of Thursday, only one category of surveillance areas was in the “alert” range, with seven new school outbreaks reported over the past week. She said health officials have investigated the issue and therefore would strongly recommend that students and staff continue to wear masks indoors even when the requirement is lifted. The county is also recommending other improvements in schools, such as better indoor ventilation and increased monitoring for disease symptoms and weekly testing of unvaccinated people.
She called the recommendations examples of the kinds of actions the county can take if other “red flags” are raised.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the county will remain ready to respond if COVID makes a resurgence.
“Even as we take advantage of the new opportunities presented by lower transmission, I want to assure our residents that going forward, I will continue to make sure our county is prepared in the event of a future fluctuation or surge,” he said. Solis said in a statement.
The county reported 59 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of deaths from the virus to 30,911.
The county also reported a total of 1,605 new COVID cases, bringing the cumulative pandemic total to 2,800,741.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing for the virus was 1.2% on Thursday, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
According to state figures, there were 852 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals Thursday, up from 907 Wednesday. Among these patients, 137 were treated in intensive care, against 157 the day before.
Ferrer said as of Thursday, 83% of eligible county residents ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, while 74% are fully vaccinated and 37% are fully vaccinated with a booster. Of the county’s 10.3 million residents, 78% have received at least one dose, 70% are fully vaccinated, and 35% are vaccinated and boosted.
Children aged 5 to 11 have the lowest vaccination rate, with 35% receiving at least one dose and 29% being fully vaccinated.
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