LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Los Angeles County on Friday officially lifted its indoor mask mandate, nine days after California eased mask rules statewide.
Under the new order, those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can go maskless in indoor public spaces such as restaurants, gyms and retail stores.
Although California lifted the statewide mask mandate on Feb. 16, the L.A. County Public Health Department chose to wait to lift its own.
Unlike the state guidelines – which use an honor system in which patrons only need to self-attest to being vaccinated -- L.A. County businesses will be required to ask patrons for proof of vaccination. Those who are unvaccinated will have to show a recent negative COVID test and still wear a mask, unless they're in the act of eating or drinking.
The same rules will apply to workers at indoor establishments.
"This allows, in places where you're verifying that people are either fully vaccinated or they have that negative test result, that then it's a safer environment where those who are fully vaccinated can go ahead and (remove) their masks," L.A. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told reporters Thursday.
The city of L.A. also Friday eased its mask mandates to align with L.A. County.
Long Beach and Pasadena, which both have their own health departments separate from L.A. County, will wait until Saturday to lift their indoor masking requirements. However, in those cities, like the rest of the state, businesses can allow patrons to simply self-attest.
Nicky Hill, the owner of Your Good Neighbor restaurant in Studio City, told CBSLA Friday that she has made the decision to keep mask requirements in place for both customers and staff.
"We did have impressions of coming in today and everybody being unmasked, and it just being so open. But for the safety of ourselves and everyone else around us, we're going to keep doing what we're doing until those numbers continue to go down a little bit," Hill said.
Keith Adams, co-owner of the Mardi Gras Tuesday restaurant in Sherman Oaks, told CBSLA Thursday the new L.A. County mandate puts his staff in an awkward position.
"No one wants to police anybody," Adams said. "It causes confrontation and embarrassment."
He said the process of verifying someone's vaccination status scares away customers.
"So you end up losing customers a lot of times," Adams added.
Many were just happy for a little bit of normalcy returning to their day-to-day lives. The relaxation of the mask mandate marks the first time in nearly two years that Angelenos are essentially able to roam around freely without a mask, and the sudden change still has many feeling a little apprehensive.
"I'm just happy to wear lipstick again, it's really that easy... And see smiles," joked Gabrielle Sagona, a stylist at Crowning Glory Hair Studio in Burbank.
"We check for valid vaccination," she continued, on a more serious note. "(We) make sure everyone's at least twice vaccinated. If you're not vaccinated you have to wear a mask."
She noted that it's completely up to each patron and employee's discretion.
"My first client chose not to unveil her face yet, because she's got children at home. But she's okay with me doing so."
Tyler Coleman, a server at The New Deal restaurant in Burbank adopted a similar personal plan.
"I'll just make it easy for people. If somebody's just like 'Hey man, I'm uncomfortable,' I don't want you to feel that way. I want you to come back and eat my food," he said, noting that he always has a mask on hand just in case.
Business owners noted a change in attitude and atmosphere Friday, as some of their patrons took advantage of the newfound facial freedom.
"Super excited, it's kind of feeling even more like normal now," said Karina Nazarian, owner of Nineteen85 Nail Bar. "They've been so happy, it's interesting t0 finally see people smile. The energy was very different in here today."
Other residents that spoke with CBS reporters Friday mentioned that with all of the precautions that have been put into place over the last two years -- including vaccinations, COVID test accessibility, prior mask mandates - they feel much more comfortable going maskless at this point.
"I'm already vaccinated. We've tested, so we feel safe," said Greg Engelking, who hails from Sherman Oaks. He also mentioned that he believes the county has continued to trend in the right direction by playing it safe, and even at this point he thinks going completely maskless would be too early.
"I don't think we're there yet, to where we don't need to protect ourselves," he continued.
The L.A. County Department of Public Health's decision to finally lift the mask mandate came after tensions boiled over last week when the L.A. County Board of Supervisors slammed DPH for not aligning with the state of California's move to end the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 16.
Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn heavily criticized the county health department's decision not to align with the state, saying that created confusion among the public and eroded trust in DPH. Hahn noted the thousands of fans who went unmasked at the Super Bowl.
Statewide, masks are still required in schools, healthcare settings, on public transportation, in airports and in nursing homes. L.A. County lifted its the outdoor mask mandate for schools and mega-events last week. LAUSD followed suit Tuesday, lifting their outdoor mask requirement for all staff and students.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also announced some changes Friday, easing their own recommendations on mask wearing nationwide - except for in Los Angeles County. Ironically, the move is based on the "high" COVID level still present in the area, as opposed to the "medium" risk levels in surrounding counties like Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino.
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