Los Angeles County’s health director on Monday defended local mask requirements that have come under scrutiny after the Rams-49ers NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium.
Photos circulated of Gov. Gavin Newsom and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti maskless at the game, drawing backlash online from residents and politicians, who pointed to the images as examples of double standards.
Newsom and Garcetti both said they removed their mask only briefly to pose for the photos, which were shared by basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
The governor and mayor, however, weren’t the only ones seen without masks at Sunday’s game. Photos show many fans in the stands cheering on their teams with their faces uncovered.
On Monday, L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger called for officials to reevaluate masking mandates.
“I strongly believe individuals should be allowed to make an informed choice about whether to mask up or not,” Barger said in a statement. “I hope state and local health leaders take this into consideration and re-evaluate indoor and school masking mandates now.”
“Let’s do away with blanket COVID-19 masking policies – they don’t make a difference when they’re not consistently followed or enforced,” she added.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer later said low mask compliance at the NFC event is not a good reason to get rid of the mask requirements.
“While we have seen that at some large events where everyone is vaccinated or has a negative test result, like Sunday’s NFC championship game, many were observed not wearing masks, low-compliance in particular settings with a critical safety measure, is not a sufficient reason to end the requirement,” the health director said in a statement.
She compared ending the mask requirement because of low compliance at the game to eliminating speed limits because of drivers ignoring them.
In L.A. County, masks are required at outdoor mega-events involving 5,000 or more attendees, like sports games, unless a person is eating or drinking. They are also required at many indoor locations, including in classrooms.
Statewide, a mask mandate for indoor settings was ordered by California officials in December as infection numbers soared, and was later extended through at least Feb. 15.
Health authorities have stressed that the mask requirements are needed for an added layer of protection as the highly-contagious omicron variant spreads across California.
The new variant fueled another COVID-19 surge in L.A. County, which saw record-shattering daily case numbers topping 45,500 earlier this month.
Officials last week said the county has likely passed the peak of omicron transmission, but thousands are still testing positive for the virus every day.
L.A. County residents, who have had to mask up indoors before it became a statewide mandate, have largely been following masking rules at indoor settings like bars and clubs.
Inspectors visiting businesses between Jan. 21 and Jan. 27 found that compliance with mask and vaccination requirements was near or above 90% among L.A. County restaurants, bars, clubs, breweries and other locations, according to the health department.
“At some point soon, transmission will be significantly lower, and we will not need to wear our masks everywhere; unfortunately, we aren’t there yet,” Ferrer said.