As California eases pandemic restrictions, LA County will continue to require masks indoors

Many students wearing masks stand in line.
If all goes well with a substantial decrease in COVID-19 cases, LA County could drop indoor mask mandates as soon as next month. (Lillian Visaya • The Student Life)

California has relaxed many of its statewide pandemic restrictions, but a more significant drop in COVID-19 cases will still need to occur for Los Angeles County to ease its indoor mask mandate, officials said this week.

LA County would consider lifting some of its mask mandates if conditions improved, Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH), said Tuesday. This would mean no further dangerous variants would need to surface, but could happen as soon as next month. 

The county will consider easing its indoor mask guidelines if COVID-19 cases fall to less than 730 a day for seven consecutive days, Ferrer said. As of Thursday, there were 3,312 new cases in LA County, but the latest case counts suggest a relative decline in positive cases each week.

On Wednesday, LA County stopped requiring masks outdoors at large-scale events such as concerts and at K-12 schools. Ferrer announced the change after the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county dropped to fewer than 2,500 for the past seven days, meeting a previously established parameter.

Masks, however, are still required indoors in LA County. According to Ferrer, if cases continue to drop at the current rate, LA County is set to reach its daily case limit goal of 730 cases per day by March 16, suggesting that the indoor mask mandate could be lifted by late March. 

LA County’s current mask guidelines are more stringent than those throughout California. On Wednesday, the state lifted its statewide mask mandate for indoor public places, following a Feb. 7 announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom that the requirement, which was last put in place last December amidst the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, would be revoked.

Masks will still be required indoors for unvaccinated individuals, as well as in high-risk places such as hospitals, schools and public transport. California will reevaluate its indoor mask requirements for K-12 schools Feb. 28.

The end of this statewide mandate doesn’t affect COVID-19 regulations in Claremont, since it will continue following the guidelines set by the LACDPH. 

But it affects counties without their own mask mandates, such as neighboring Orange and San Bernardino counties. Places such as Laguna Beach, Anaheim and Big Bear are located in the counties that will no longer require masks indoors.

LA County will also consider lifting its indoor mask mandate eight weeks after children under five years old become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Ferrer. Recent developments with Pfizer’s vaccine trial for children under five may complicate that milestone, though.

Ferrer said she expected vaccines for this age group to be approved by late February, meaning the county would have potentially eased restrictions by the end of April. But on Feb. 11, Pfizer announced that it would postpone its FDA application for vaccines in the five and under age group, saying it was still waiting for data on a third dose. 

Pfizer expects data to come out early April, which means that if cases don’t drop to the required amount, LA County won’t consider lifting its indoor mask mandate until after mid-June, based on the guidelines outlined by Ferrer. 

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