LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Los Angeles County's public health chief said Tuesday that local indoor COVID-19 mask mandates will remain in place for the time being despite California's decision to lift its own statewide mask requirement.
With Omicron cases dropping, the California Department of Public Health announced Monday that the statewide mask wearing requirement for vaccinated people will be lifted beginning on Feb. 16 for most indoor public spaces. Masks will still be required for everyone, however, in schools, on public transit, in health care facilities and in airports.
However, despite the state action, L.A. County will still maintain its own local regulation. L.A. County's own indoor mask-wearing mandate will remain for at least several more weeks, the county's Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said at an L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
The issue became a lightning rod when both California Gov. Gavin Newsom and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti were pictured at the NFC title game between the L.A. Rams and the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Jan. 30 without masks.
Last week, Ferrer unveiled metrics for a possible relaxing of the county's masking orders, saying the mandate will be dropped at outdoor "mega- events" and outdoors at schools and child care centers if COVID-positive hospitalizations in the county fall below 2,500 for seven consecutive days.
As of Tuesday, there were 2,702 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals.
According to Ferrer, that requirement will not be lifted until L.A. County's level of transmission falls to the "moderate" level, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and stays there for two straight weeks.
Reaching the "moderate" designation requires the county to have a cumulative, seven-day new case rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. According to the CDC's website, the county's rate was 1,098 per 100,000 residents as of Monday.
On Tuesday, she said the county will also consider lifting the indoor mask mandate once COVID vaccines are available to children under age 5 for eight weeks. Ferrer said that availability could begin by the end of February.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger pushed back, arguing that keeping the local mandate will create confusion among residents. She also said the criteria put forward by the L.A. County Department of Public Health for phasing out the requirement will mean continued mask-wearing possibly into May.
"When you look at the numbers you put out, I feel that it's not even realistic," Barger told Ferrer. "We'd have to completely eliminate COVID to be a point of lifting most of these restrictions."
Ferrer said she recognized the frustration that varying requirements can create among residents, but she said COVID transmission locally just remains too high to ease up on the vaccine mandate. She acknowledged that the county is seeing rapid improvements in its pandemic metrics, saying the "numbers are dropping rapidly."
"There's no way this is a forever (mandate)," she said.
But she said lifting protective measures like mask-wearing too soon could reverse current progress being made.
"The decline continues if the protections are in place that help us limit transmission," Ferrer said. "When we remove a lot of those ... we tend to see our numbers go back up."
On Tuesday, L.A. County reported another 51 virus-related deaths and 4,198 new COVID cases. The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 5% as of Tuesday, the same as Monday.
(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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