Los Angeles County on Friday will end its local health order requiring the wearing of masks while traveling on public transportation or within transportation hubs such as airports.
For months, Los Angeles has been the only California county still requiring widespread mask use in such settings, though some individual operators, most notably the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter rail system, also They have such rules.
Los Angeles County health officials had previously cited the increased risks of coronavirus spread and exposure to transit workers as justification for keeping the order in place. But with the number of reported coronavirus cases and hospitalizations falling markedly in recent weeks, health officials said the time has come to relax the order.
However, even with the mandate about to expire, officials said they still strongly recommend wearing masks in indoor transit settings, and “strongly recommending, from our perspective, means it’s a great idea to keep your mask on,” said Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County public health director. she told her Thursday.
BART’s board of directors will also discuss the future of that agency’s mask rules Thursday night. The mandate there is currently in effect until October 1. 1.
The change coincided with the timing of the California Department of Public Health’s plan to eliminate state-mandated mandatory masking in jails and prisons, homeless shelters, and emergency and cooling centers in counties with a low COVID community level. -19, as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Placement in that category, which includes most California counties, indicates that the pandemic is not having a major impact on hospitals. The CDC updates its community-level assessments, which indicate rates of new coronavirus-positive hospitalizations, each week, ranking counties as low, medium or high.
State masking orders would still apply in jails and prisons, shelters and cooling centers if there is an outbreak, or if the facility is in a county with a medium or high community level of COVID-19.
Masks will continue to be required in health care facilities and senior and long-term care settings under a state health order. And the state requires that businesses and places, including K-12 schools, “must allow anyone to wear a mask if they choose to.”
Los Angeles County said it will also ease its strong recommendation for universal indoor mask wearing on Friday, saying instead the practice should be a matter of personal preference in light of declining coronavirus case rates. . The state is doing the same thing in counties where hospitalization levels are low.
Los Angeles County health officials would still strongly recommend that certain people, including older or unvaccinated residents, as well as those with underlying health conditions or who live in high-poverty areas, mask up in higher-risk settings. Such spaces include those that are crowded, involve close contact with others, or have poor airflow.
Ferrer also urged people to wear masks on public transport and in hubs like airports.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health had previously said it would ease its guidance any time the county fell below the threshold of 100 coronavirus cases per week per 100,000 residents.
Los Angeles County has now reached that mark. During the seven-day period that ended Thursday, Los Angeles County reported 98 coronavirus cases a week for every 100,000 residents.
Ferrer said the traffic masking could be reinstated if the case rate went above 100 again and remained above that threshold for 14 consecutive days.
“You can’t just ignore the heightened risk associated with public transportation, especially for transportation workers,” he said. “If case rates increase to indicate high transmission, it is appropriate to apply more protection to prevent spread.”
Some Los Angeles County mask orders will remain in place beyond Friday, including a requirement that anyone exposed to the coronavirus wear a mask for 10 days after exposure. Being exposed to the coronavirus is defined as sharing the same indoor air space for at least 15 minutes during a 24-hour period.
Infected people in Los Angeles County must also stay home for at least five days after first symptoms or the date of their first positive test if they have no symptoms. They can be released from isolation as early as day 6 if they are negative on a rapid test, and can generally be released from isolation by the beginning of day 11 without needing a negative test result.
Los Angeles County’s mask orders for exposed and infected people are the same as those imposed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, for employees in a workplace. The California Department of Public Health has similar guidelines for exposed and infected people, but unlike Los Angeles County and Cal/OSHA, it makes recommendations, not requirements.
California is also largely renewing its strong recommendation that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks when in public places and closed businesses. Instead, California will recommend universal indoor mask wearing only when a county’s COVID-19 community level is high.
The changes will give “Californians the information they need to consider when deciding when to wear a mask, including the rate of spread in the community and personal risk,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, California public health director and official. of state health, in a statement.
California health officials say the use of masks remains important for protection against infection. In 2021, the constant use of a face mask in closed public places reduced the risk of contracting a coronavirus infection, the state Department of Public Health said, citing a study it published. And a 10% increase in self-reported mask use tripled the likelihood of slowing community transmission of the coronavirus, officials said, citing a series of surveys across the country.