LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County's much-debated COVID-19 indoor mask-wearing mandate could be lifted by Friday, according to the public health director, aligning the county with the state's action that took effect today.
The move would mean Los Angeles County will no longer require people to wear masks at indoor businesses. The county is one of the final holdouts in California not to align with the state on the masking rules.
The state last month dropped its indoor mask-wearing mandate for vaccinated people. On Tuesday, it also dropped the mandate for unvaccinated people.
Los Angeles County, however, resisted dropping the indoor masking requirement.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county wanted to wait until the local virus-transmission rate fell out of the ``high'' category as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and maintained the lower level for at least two weeks. Under the current rate of decline, Ferrer previously said that would mean the mask mandate would be in place until the end of March.
But on Friday, the CDC announced new standards that rely largely on COVID hospital numbers to govern whether masks should be worn. Those new standards -- while resulting in mask recommendations being lifted for much of the country, still classified Los Angeles as having ``high'' virus activity and urged that people continue to wear masks.
Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the CDC updates its data every Thursday. And when this week's update is released, Los Angeles County will likely fall from the ``high'' virus activity category to the ``low'' category, she said.
Given that drop, Ferrer said the county is prepared to issue a new Health Officer Order on Thursday, taking effect Friday, that will eliminate the indoor mask-wearing requirement.
Masks, however, will continue to be required in locations where they are mandated by federal and state orders, including health care facilities, transit centers, airports, aboard public transit, in correctional facilities and at homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.
Masks are also still required indoors at K-12 schools, however, the state announced Monday that it will lift that requirement as of March 12. Los Angeles County will also lift the school-masking requirement in alignment with the state, but individual school districts have the option of maintaining the mandate.
That means the rule could potentially remain in effect at the Los Angeles Unified School District. In a statement Monday, the district would not commit to dropping the mask requirement.
``We are encouraged by recent improvements to local health conditions, which underscore the effectiveness of the district's robust vaccination and testing programs,'' according to the district. ``We are committed to upholding our science-driven approach to COVID-19 protocols and will continue to consult with our medical director and health partners as we work to establish an updated mask policy.
``We respect the voices of all stakeholders, and as such, we will remain engaged with our labor partners, employees and families as we maintain and seek practices that are protective, responsive and in the best interest of our school communities.''
Meanwhile, the president of the district's powerful teachers union indicated that it will oppose any effort to lift the indoor mask mandate.
``LAUSD schools have been the safest and most well-equipped in the country because educators and families united to demand critical health and safety protocols,'' UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement.
``These protocols, like indoor masking, have protected tens of thousands of educators and more than half a million students, along with their families. It is premature to discuss removing these health and safety measures while there are still many unvaccinated youth in our early education programs and schools.''