Los Angeles Official Indicates County Will Not Likely Remove Indoor Mask Mandate Until Late April – Update

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UPDATED on Tuesday: Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer today explained to the County Board of Supervisors the decision today to maintain a mask mandate even though California announced it is relaxing its requirement.

“We share in the desire to take masks off,” said Ferrer. “The issue is one of timing. Because mask wearing is an effective strategy for reducing the spread of Covid-19, we are glad that we are able to use that protection to so the things we love.”

She compared case numbers on December 15, when the state instituted its mask mandate, to those on this week saying, “Our case counts today are more than 4 times higher than they were on December 15.”

She clarified the requirement county has set for dropping masking at large outdoor events and outdoor spaces at schools and child-care facilities: The post-surge trigger for easing those restrictions will be when virus-related hospitalizations fall below 2,500 for seven straight days. They were at 2,773 yesterday.

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The next reduction in L.A. County’s mandated masking — this time at indoors at workplaces, retail and indoor events — would come when the region has two consecutive weeks at or below moderate transmission as defined by the CDC and “there are no emerging reports of significantly circulating new variants of concern that threaten vaccine effectiveness.”

The CDC bar for moderate transmission is when a region averages less than 50 cases per 100,000 over 7 days. As of today, according to state stats, the county’s 7-day average case rate was 117.3 per 100,000 residents, down from 193 cases per 100,000 residents for the week ending January 31.

Ferrer today also added a new requirement before masking can be lifted indoors at workplaces, retail and indoor events. It is that vaccines for children under 5 must have been available for 8 weeks. She said that approval should happen by the end of the month, putting the lifting of those outdoor mask mandates at the end of April.

Board Chair Holly Mitchell thanked Ferrer for providing target measures for dropping masking, rather than

Supervisor Kathryn Barger called for aligning with the state saying, “My concern is that these will become provisions that will last in perpetuity. Committing to keeping these in place until late spring is inconsistent with measures across the country and the state.”

She urged “clarity and consistency” in messaging, and said “I cannot support keeping these measures in place until late spring.”

“I will be opposing the health order,” she said. She also expressed concern that it might be May before indoor masking rules were modified. “My understanding is that, per the CDC, our case numbers were only down to moderate transmission for only a few weeks last year.”

Ferrer responded, “Our numbers are dropping pretty rapidly. In my mind there is no way this is forever. The issue is that the declines [only] take place as long as the measures are in place.” She said it would likely only be “a few weeks” to get to 750 daily cases, which is the CDC threshold.

She also indicated that vaccines were not in play when the numbers dropped last year, giving the county an advantage this year in bringing down case rates. That’s not entirely true, as vaccinations began in the state last March and cases hit a low last year in May.

“I think we can do this,” she said. I’d be the first person to say this looks like it would be impossible. We’re not trying to set the bar too high.”

PREVIOUSLY on Monday: Earlier today, California officials announced the state would allow vaccinated residents to be unmasked in most indoor public spaces beginning next week. Local jurisdictions are allowed to be more stringent with their requirements, however, and it looks like Los Angeles County will be forging its own path on masks.

Not long after the state announcement, according to multiple reports the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health indicated that the local mask mandate would not be lifted. Deadline reached out to the LACDPH, but did not immediately hear back.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday outlined a set of conditions that would have to be met for the region to relax its health office order. The state’s announcement today apparently did not change those stipulations.

“This is not the right time to stop wearing our masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings,” said Ferrer.

She said the post-surge trigger for easing some restrictions would be when virus-related hospitalizations fall below 2,500 for seven straight days. They currently clock in at 2,773, a sizable drop from 3,398 on Thursday. That easing would not include indoor masking, however. It would only be for masking at large outdoor events.

Once hospitalizations fall below 2,500 for seven straight days, the county will no longer require masks at outdoor mega-events, such as sporting events — such as this weekend’s Super Bowl — and concerts with over 5,000 attendees, or in outdoor spaces at schools and child-care facilities.

Masks will still be required at indoor events, inside businesses such as restaurants and gyms and in TK-12 schools. One would assume movie theaters and TV and film production would also be on that list.

The next reduction in L.A. County’s mandated Covid interventions would come when the region has two consecutive weeks at or below moderate transmission as defined by the CDC and “there are no emerging reports of significantly circulating new variants of concern that threaten vaccine effectiveness.” The CDC bar for moderate transmission is when a region averages less than 50 cases per 100,000 over 7 days. As of today, according to state stats, the county’s 7-day average case rate was 117.3 per 100,000 residents, down from 193 cases per 100,000 residents for the week ending January 31.

It is unclear if, when moderate transmission rate is achieved, indoor masking requirements are among those requirements that will be lifted.

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