L.A. County’s new outdoor event, nightlife venue rules seek to drive up vaccination rates

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Customers are required by security to wear face masks to enter a bar in West Hollywood on July 18, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon / AFP / Getty Images)

Customers are required by security to wear face masks to enter a bar in West Hollywood on July 18, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon / AFP / Getty Images)

With increasing inoculation rates their highest priority in the continued battle against COVID-19, Los Angeles County health officials on Friday are unveiling a new health officer order that encourages people to get vaccinated to enter more public spaces.

The new rules apply to outdoor events and venues with more than 10,000 attendees, as well as indoors at bars, nightclubs, wineries, breweries and lounges.

“It is clear that our vaccination progress is stalling, and we need to move in a different direction to avoid future surges in cases,” county public health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a briefing Friday.

Outdoor mega-events will need to start verifying attendees’ vaccination status or obtaining proof of a negative test within 72 hours by Oct. 7. This rule applies to any ticketed gathering of at least 10,000 people, which includes theme parks as well as sports arenas and concert halls.

Ferrer noted that the rules are similar to ones from the state that take effect Monday applying to all indoor events with more than 1,000 attendees.

For nightclub venues, no negative tests will be accepted, only proof of vaccine. Patrons will need to have at least one dose by Oct. 7 and be fully vaccinated by Nov. 4, though children under 12 are exempt, Ferrer said.

The public health director said the new order will position the county to “break the cycle of surges” that could make room for more dangerous virus variants to emerge.

“There’s no way we want to go into the late fall and winter with high rates of transmission,” she said. “We’ve seen the seasonality of this virus in the past, and we cannot afford in this county another surge like what we saw last year.”

The nightlife rules don’t apply to restaurants, although Ferrer encouraged all eateries to begin requiring proof of vaccination indoors.

Public health officials said toolkits will be available for businesses Friday, providing guidance on how to verify vaccinations, how to verify testing and how to make sure people know how to go get tested.

Despite the stricter guidelines for crowded outdoor spaces and nightlife venues, no masking requirements will be rolled back. Health officials view them as an added layer of protection that’s still necessary with a high rate of virus transmission in the county.  

As of Sept. 12, 76% of all eligible L.A. County residents had at least one dose of vaccine. But of all the county’s 10.3 million residents, only about 58% were fully vaccinated.

Ferrer is hopeful that L.A. County’s new order, the latest in a series of local and federal vaccine mandates, will increase vaccination coverage in the coming weeks while also lowering risk of infection.

“These are becoming a critical part of policy strategies for preventing future surges of COVID,” she said.

Both the Los Angeles Unified and Culver City school districts have mandated that all eligible students get vaccinated against the coronavirus, adding it to a list of other shots required to attend school.

All Los Angeles County health care workers have also been ordered to be fully vaccinated by the end of this month, and all county employees by Oct. 1. City of L.A. workers, meanwhile, must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 5.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden also ordered all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly.

The city of L.A. is also finalizing an ordinance that would require proof of vaccination for anyone entering indoor public spaces like restaurants, gyms, stores and movie theaters.

In West Hollywood, a measure that would require vaccine proof in high-risk settings like bars, restaurants and gyms is pending ratification.

The latest L.A. County data shows unvaccinated older adults are nearly 17 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than their vaccinated counterparts.

It’s especially important for older adults to get vaccinated, as even then they’re at higher risk of serious illness if infected than unvaccinated younger people, Ferrer said.  

Meanwhile, fewer than 1% of fully vaccinated people have tested positive for the virus.

This week the virus’ rate of spread in L.A. County is around where it was last week, but overall case rates and hospitalizations are trending down from where they were last month. Still, dozens of deaths are being reported each day, “and these losses are extraordinarily difficult,” Ferrer said.

The county’s high transmission rate is still being driven by the highly contagious delta variant, which continues to account for 100% of all cases sequenced in the region.

Ferrer said no new cases have been detected of either the lambda or mu variants, after officials last week announced they’d discovered the strains had been spreading in the area earlier this summer.

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