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Los Angeles County health authorities on Thursday laid out the COVID-19 benchmarks needed for loosening some masking requirements.

As L.A. County begins to turn a corner on an omicron-fueled COVID-19 wave that sent infection numbers to record-setting levels, Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced the county is planning for what masking requirements will look like after the surge.

“When transmission is lower, we will appropriately be relaxing some masking requirements, but we’re not there yet,” Ferrer said during a media briefing.

The county will be considered “post-surge” when daily COVID-19 hospitalizations drop below 2,500 for seven consecutive days — a level that would mean that hospitals can go back to providing services that may have been halted due to the virus.

Hospitalization numbers have already been declining in L.A. County. There were 3,398 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in L.A. County Thursday, down from 4,323 who were hospitalized the Thursday before.

Ferrer said some changes “will occur soon.”

However, it’s not likely that L.A. County will reach this “post-surge” goal before the Super Bowl at SoFi stadium, where masks will be required, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Outdoor mega events and outdoor spaces at schools

When the region hits its benchmark of fewer than 2,500 hospitalizations for seven days, the county will stop requiring masks at:

  • Outdoor “mega” events with more than 5,000 attendees (like Dodger Stadium or SoFi Stadium)
  • Outdoor spaces at K-12 schools and child care facilities

During that time, masks will still be required at many other settings, including indoors at schools, child care centers, offices, hospitals, jails, homeless shelters, on public transit and at high-risk settings.

Restaurants, indoor events and other settings

After that, if L.A. County has two consecutive weeks at or below “moderate” transmission — which the CDC says is less than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over a week — and if there are no reports of new variants that threaten vaccine effectiveness, more mask requirements will be loosened at:

  • Indoor establishments like offices
  • Indoor events
  • Indoor areas of bars and restaurants

During that time, masks will still be required indoors at schools, child care centers, hospitals, jails, homeless shelters and on public transit.

But it could take a while for L.A. County to get to this level. Currently, the county is listed under “high” transmission on the CDC’s website, with a case rate of 1,237 per 100,000.

As of Friday, none of California’s counties had “moderate” transmission levels.

Also, even after the county hits its benchmarks, L.A. County will continue recommending that residents keep their masks on whenever in close contact with others in indoor or outdoor crowded spaces until transmission is low.

And even if L.A. County stops requiring masking at certain settings, businesses can still choose to have stricter rules and keep requiring customers to mask up, Ferrer said.

Being at a “post-surge” stage does not mean that the pandemic is over or that transmission is low, Ferrer said. It means that L.A. County is seeing consistent declines from the surge’s peak that lets the department tweak its public health response, she added.

The health director also urged residents to continue wearing their masks as the highly-contagious omicron variant continues to circulate.

“Although there’s been inconsistent compliance, as we’ve seen in some settings, given the continued high numbers of new cases, including breakthrough cases, this is not the right time to stop wearing our mask when around others indoors and in crowded outdoor settings,“ Ferrer said.