First published in the Feb. 25 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
As of Friday, Los Angeles County businesses and offices that verify vaccination status or negative COVID-19 test results for patrons and employees may allow fully vaccinated individuals to shed their masks indoors.
The L.A. County Department of Public Health announced the change on Wednesday, as daily new case rates for COVID-19 continue to plummet in the wake of the surge driven by the Omicron variant. The policy change brings L.A. County closer to alignment with the state, which has broadly dropped its masking mandate for vaccinated individuals.
If a business verifies that all of its customers are either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have received a recent negative test result (within two days for PCR tests or one day for an antigen test), the customers may eschew wearing masks while at that business. If the business would like its vaccinated employees to have that option, it must also verify vaccination status or negative test results.
At restaurants, unvaccinated guests (or employees) must continue to wear masks when not actively eating or drinking even with a negative test result. At businesses exercising the right to shed masks, those who cannot attest to either requirement aren’t allowed inside.
“As the county continues to experience reduced COVID-19 spread, it is appropriate to consider fewer required safety measures, noting that vulnerable individuals should continue to layer in all protections possible,” the health department said in its announcement.
L.A. County’s indoor mask mandate, which set it apart from most of California after Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed the state-level indoor mandate this month, has come under especially strong scrutiny in the wake of the Super Bowl hosted at SoFi Stadium. The event became a lightning rod for anti-mask mandate activists after large crowds — including celebrities and public officials — were often seen in close quarters without their face coverings throughout the game.
Public officials have signaled awareness of the emergency health order disparities as well. L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents South Pasadena in the 5th District, had advocated for more relaxed restrictions in the pre-Omicron surge months. A colleague, Janice Hahn from the 2nd District, joined her more vocally after the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.
Barger lauded Wednesday’s health order but expressed lingering frustration that it wasn’t a simple deference to the state.
“Glad to hear @lapublichealth will update @CountyofLA’s indoor masking orders for some indoor spaces,” she tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, presumably after being briefed on the forthcoming order. “I’ve been calling for this all along! This is another step towards living w/ #COVID19 in a balanced way. But piecemealed policies are frustrating & confusing. #AlignWithTheState.”
The county last week curbed a more recent order to mandate outdoor masking at school sites, which it implemented once it became clear the Omicron surge was on the ascent. The indoor mandate remains in place for schools, which continues to draw ire from some parents, and county officials plan to revisit school-based regulations on Monday.
The public health department also indicated that it was amenable to further shedding the indoor masking mandate in the coming weeks, should daily new case rates continue to fall. In the event that L.A. County records an average of fewer than 730 daily new COVID-19 cases over seven consecutive days, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that broad mandate would be shelved.
At the current rate of decline, Ferrer has speculated that L.A. County could reach that benchmark by mid-to-late March.