California confirmed its plan to drop its universal indoor mask mandate next week as the omicron surge wanes in the state. But Los Angeles County residents will need to keep masking up for the foreseeable future.
The county isn’t planning to ease its local mask rules when the statewide requirements expire on Feb. 15. Instead, the county has set its own criteria for when Angelenos can go mask-free.
The benchmarks are different for outdoor masking and indoor masking.
When will L.A. County end its outdoor mask mandate?
While face coverings aren’t required in most outdoor environments in L.A., they are required at so-called mega-events. A mega-event is one where there are 5,000 or more people in attendance, such as a concert, parade or say, the Super Bowl.
The county said last week it would drop the mask requirement at outdoor mega-events once there are fewer than 2,500 hospitalized with COVID-19 countywide for at least seven straight days.
As of Sunday (the latest data available from the county), there were 2,773 patients hospitalized with COVID. So we’re not there yet, but the county is getting closer each day. On Friday we were at 3,012 patients; two days before we were at 3,398.
Even if the trend continues and hospitalizations drop under 2,500 this week (and stay down for seven days), there isn’t enough time to lift the outdoor mask mandate by Sunday when the Super Bowl will take place at SoFi Stadium.
When will L.A. County end its indoor mask mandate?
The way things are trending, it looks like Los Angeles could drop its outdoor mask rules in the next two weeks. But indoor masking is likely to stick around longer.
L.A. County is likely “weeks” away from lifting the indoor mask mandate, L.A. County Health Director Ferrer said Tuesday.
That’s because the county won’t ease its indoor mask requirements until:
- Weekly case rate is lower than 50 per 100,000 people for two straight weeks
- Test positivity rate is below 8% for two straight weeks
Meeting both those criteria would put L.A. County on the Centers for Disease Control’s list of places with “moderate” COVID transmission.
How close are we to meeting those benchmarks? The seven-day-average positivity rate is down to about 5%, so that’s promising. (Test positivity rate is the percent of people who get a COVID test and end up with a positive result.)
But the county’s case rate is stunningly far from the 50 per 100,000 benchmark. According to the CDC, Los Angeles County was averaging 1,098 cases per 100,000 people Tuesday.
“We anticipate being able to get to moderate transmission if we can continue to drive down the rates as we are right now on our cases within a few weeks, but we’re not there yet,” Ferrer said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Cases are dropping steadily day by day, but “moderate” transmission by the CDC’s definition is still far off. The only two California counties who have met those standards thus far are Modoc and Sierra counties in far Northern California.
Ferrer said another metric that would let L.A. County end many indoor mask requirements would be when the county hits eight weeks of COVID-19 vaccines being available for children under 5. It is expected the Pfizer shots will be available to the young children by the end of the month.
Ferrer said the county prefers its plan for loosening restrictions over “an arbitrary date that’s actually not tied to the conditions in the community.”
“There’s no way this is a forever. This has an endpoint,” Ferrer said. “If nothing else, that’s eight weeks after there’s approval of early child vaccines, but I think we’re gonna get there a lot faster if we continue with the decline.”
Asked about whether L.A. County could consider aligning with the state, Ferrer said case numbers are too high for that.
She stressed that current COVID-19 case numbers are more than four times higher than they were on Dec. 15, when the state brought back its mask mandate.
“I will say, unequivocally, that we should not be lifting a masking mandate when we’re reporting thousands and thousands of new cases every day,” Ferrer said. “That doesn’t make sense to us.”
Other Southern California counties are planning to ease their mask mandates regardless starting on Feb. 16, including Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino.