LOS ANGELES (CNS) - With COVID-19 transmission falling, Los Angeles County Friday lifted its requirement that face masks be worn on buses, trains and other mass transit vehicles, as well as at airports and other transportation hubs.
Los Angeles County had been the only jurisdiction in the state still requiring the mass-transit masks. Face coverings are now only "strongly recommended" on transit vehicles, including ride-hail vehicles, and at transit hubs.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said masks will remain only "strongly recommended" aboard mass transit as long as the county stays in the federal government's "low" COVID activity level and the weekly infection rate remains below 100 new cases per 100,000 residents.
If the rate rises above 100 new infections per 100,000 residents, the masks will again be mandated on transit vehicles. The county's rate as of Thursday was 98 cases per 100,000 residents.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it was adhering to the county guidance and would no longer require masks.
"Consistent with our practice throughout the pandemic to follow the guidance of L.A. County Department of Public Health, face masks are no longer required aboard Metro bus, rail, Metro Micro, and at rail stations," according to Metro. "However, in keeping with health officials' guidance, we still strongly recommend the use of masks aboard transit, particularly for those at higher risk, and will continue to make face masks available for those who need them."
The change to the transit masking rule coincided with Friday's overall easing of mask rules in the state and county. The easing means that masks are no longer required in correctional facilities, homeless shelters or cooling centers.
Los Angeles County also lowered its general indoor masking guidance from "strongly recommended" to "individual preference."
Masks, however, continue to be required in health care, long-term care and adult/senior care facilities. Individual businesses and venues can also require masks indoors if they choose to do so. People considered at higher risk of infection or severe illness should also consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor public places, officials said.
People who begin exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus are also required to wear a mask for 10 days, under county guidelines. People who were positive for the virus but are eligible to leave isolation after six days following a negative test must also wear a mask if they are returning to work or school.
The county has been experiencing downward trends in COVID infections and hospitalizations for weeks.
On Friday, the number of COVID-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals was 575, up from 551 on Thursday, according to state figures. Of those patients, 71 were being treated in intensive care units, down from 77 on Thursday.
County officials have said about 43% of patients with COVID were actually hospitalized due to virus-related illness, while the rest were admitted for other reasons, with some only learning they were infected when they were tested upon admission.
The county Department of Public Health reported another 1,641 COVID infections on Friday, lifting the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,447,249. The case numbers officially reported by the county are also believed to be low due to the popularity of at-home tests, the results of which are generally not relayed to the county.
Another 13 COVID-related deaths were also reported Friday, raising the overall death toll to 33,532.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 4.5% as of Friday.