LA County to Again Discuss Indoor Mask Mandate as Rules Ease Nationally

Group of cheerful children going home from school after covid-19 quarantine and lockdown.

Photo: Getty Images

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County health and elected leaders are expected to again discuss the future of the local indoor mask-wearing mandate today, as rules requiring face coverings ease back across the state and nationally.  

Beginning Tuesday, California lifted its requirement that unvaccinated people wear masks in most indoor settings -- joining the vaccinated population that had its mandate lifted two weeks ago. But face coverings are still ``strongly recommended'' indoors. Masks continue to be required for everyone at indoor settings including health care facilities, transit centers, airports, aboard public transit, in correctional facilities and at homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.  

But regardless of the state's easing of mask rules, Los Angeles County continues to impose an indoor mask-wearing mandate for everyone in most locations -- a rule that has come under increasing criticism from two members of the county Board of Supervisors.  

The county recently eased its requirement, allowing vaccinated people to remove their masks in indoor locations where all patrons are checked for either a COVID vaccination or a recent negative test.  

According to the county Department of Public Health, the agency ``will review any additional state guidance changes and provide an update on additional modifications to L.A. County safety measures during (Tuesday's) Board of Supervisors meeting.''  

There has been a growing push by two county supervisors for an end to the county's mask-wearing mandate. Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn have both said the county should align its rules fully with the state to avoid confusion and frustration among residents.  

Barger on Monday hailed the state's announcement that it is easing masking rules, and again called for an end to the county requirement.  

``During (Tuesday's) L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting, our county's public health director has committed to articulating a plan for how L.A. County will adjust its masking mandates and restrictions,'' Barger said in a statement. ``I look forward to that discussion and will continue to call for clarity and consistency with state and federal guidelines.  

``It's clear to me that, as the Omicron surge continues to decrease in L.A. County, we need to implement flexible COVID-19 infection control policies and move away from rigid approaches. The time for compulsory masking mandates has come to an end.''  

On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 and San Diego counties as having ``high'' virus activity and urged that people continue to wear masks.  

Under the new CDC guidance, both Orange and Riverside counties are in the ``medium'' category, so the federal guidance does not require mask wearing.  

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said that the county's indoor mask-wearing rule would remain in place until:  

-- the county's level of COVID transmission rate falls to the ``moderate'' level as defined by the CDC and remains there for two weeks; OR  

-- COVID vaccines have been available to residents under age 5 for at least eight weeks; AND  

-- no emerging COVID ``variants of concern'' have been identified that could spark another surge in cases.  

According to Ferrer, reaching the CDC's ``moderate'' level of transmission requires the county to have a seven-day cumulative infection rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. Ferrer said that is expected to happen by March 16, meaning the indoor mask mandate would be completely lifted by March 30.  

Los Angeles County lifted its outdoor mask mandate for large event venues, schools and child care centers on Feb. 16.  

The state announced Monday that its indoor mask-wearing mandate for school campuses will expire at 11:59 p.m. March 11. Los Angeles County health officials said they will align with the state and lift their local school mask mandate on that date.  

However, it's still unclear if the Los Angeles Unified School District will lift the mandate on that schedule.  

The LAUSD issued a statement late Monday saying only that the district would be monitoring COVID rates. But the district did not commit to lifting the mask mandate on March 12.  

``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.''  

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.''

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