LA County To Lift Most Mask Requirements, Vaccine Verifications

The CDC dropped LA County to the "low" coronavirus transmission category, paving the way for the easing of restrictions Friday.

Patrons eat indoors at Philippe the Original restaurant in Los Angeles, Friday. Feb. 25, 2022. Los Angeles County is set to lift its indoor mask mandate this week as coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations plummet. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)


— For the first time since the Omicron surge, Los Angeles County officially exited the federal government's "high" coronavirus activity level, which will mean an end to most indoor mask requirements Friday.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially upgraded the county to the "low" COVID activity category Thursday. On Wednesday, county health officials outlined new health orders that would go into effect after the county exited the high activity category. Though masking in indoor public places remains highly recommended, it will no longer be mandatory in most settings. Similarly, local vaccine verification requirements at businesses such as bars, clubs, wineries and breweries will no longer be in effect, though county healthy officials "strongly recommend" it.

The changes mark some of the single biggest steps toward the return to normal since businesses and schools reopened following the 2020 shutdown. County health cautioned that they would be monitoring schools, nursing homes and other sectors for outbreaks that could trigger the return of widespread mask requirements in the days to come. But for now, Angelenos can breathe without face coverings.

"Under this modified order, indoor masking will be strongly recommended, but not required, for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, except in high-risk settings where federal and state regulations continue to require masking, including everyone using public transit and all those in emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional and detention facilities, homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities," according to the new health order. "At all sites where masking indoors is no longer mandatory, employers will be required to offer, for voluntary use, medical grade masks and respirators to employees working indoors in close contact with other workers and/or customers."

The CDC categories are based largely on the number of new virus-related hospital admissions and on the overall availability of hospital beds. COVID hospitalizations continue to fall dramatically in Los Angeles County. For weeks, the daily case rate had been dropping rapidly, too. However, that decline slowed and climbed slightly some days this week.

The county reported 80 new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, raising the overall death toll from the virus to 30,858. One of the deaths reported Wednesday was a person between ages 12 and 17.

The county also reported a total of 1,626 new COVID cases, raising the cumulative pandemic total to 2,799,169.

The new health orders will put the county in alignment with the state, which dropped its mask mandate on Tuesday.

Indoor masks also continue to be required on K-12 school campuses, although the county and state will lift that requirement on March 12. The policy, however, is expected to remain in place in the Los Angeles Unified School District until the end of the school year.

County health officials also noted that people attending indoor mega- events of 1,000 or more people — such as sporting events — will still be required to show proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative test to be admitted. Vaccine verification or a negative test will also still be required at health care facilities and congregate-care facilities.

While the mask mandate will likely be lifted, Ferrer warned Tuesday that the virus remains a threat. She said the county will be monitoring seven "alert signals" that could portend increased virus activity. Three of them are community-wide metrics -- variants of concern, COVID-19 emergency department visits and cumulative COVID case rates in high-poverty communities.

The other four "alert signals" involve specific sectors, tracking outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities, at K-12 schools, at homeless shelters and at worksites. If two or more of those signals rise to alert levels, the county will work to determine what is causing the increase and whether restrictions need to be reinstated.

The rolling average daily rate of people testing for the virus was 1.2% as of Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

According to state figures, there were 907 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, down from 927 on Tuesday. Of those patients, 157 were being treated in intensive care, down from 174 the previous day.