L.A. County will lift outdoor mask mandate Wednesday

As the number of hospitalized coronavirus-positive patients continues to fall, Los Angeles County will relax its outdoor masking rules just after midnight Wednesday, a top health official confirmed.

The revised guidance will allow people to go without face coverings outdoors at K-12 (including transitional kindergarten) schools and child-care facilities, and will apply to exterior areas of “mega” events, such as those at the Hollywood Bowl, Dodger Stadium, SoFi Stadium and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Mask rules at these settings will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, according to L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

“With significant improvement in community transmission rates, we’re looking forward to realigning our safety measures while continuing as always to ensure protections for our workers and our most vulnerable residents,” she told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

County health officials had said they would drop outdoor masking requirements once coronavirus-positive hospitalizations dropped below 2,500 for seven consecutive days. The county dipped below that threshold last Wednesday, and the hospital census has continued to tumble since.

According to the latest available state data, there were 1,995 coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized in L.A. County as of Monday. That figure has fallen 26% in the last week.

L.A. County has also seen a significant decline in its coronavirus case count. Over the last week, the county has reported an average of nearly 4,100 new cases per day — down 81% from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times.

“We remain very encouraged by the steady declines that are seen across so many of our metrics,” Ferrer said.

Despite the change to outdoor masking, Angelenos — regardless of vaccination status — will still be required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces for at least the near term, unlike in most other areas of California.

On Wednesday, state health officials will lift a requirement that all residents age 2 and older wear masks in most indoor public spaces. While the vast majority of California counties have said they will follow that guidance, some — Santa Clara and Mendocino, in addition to L.A. — will retain local universal indoor mask mandates, likely until at least next month.

Meanwhile, some well-known venues and events said they are planning to relax mask rules in light of the state’s move.

Officials at Disneyland on Tuesday confirmed that the Anaheim resort will follow the state’s guidelines by allowing vaccinated visitors to enter indoor eateries, stores and attractions without masks, starting Thursday. Unvaccinated visitors must wear a mask in those settings, but park employees will not be checking vaccination records, Disney representatives said.

Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park and Sea World in San Diego have also announced plans to follow the state guidelines regarding masks.

Goldenvoice, organizer of the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals, said Tuesday that it will eliminate all COVID-19 safety precautions from this spring’s events.

When it comes to indoor masking in L.A. County, the approach to lifting the mandate has changed since last week. County health officials said they will keep the indoor mask mandate in place until the region records seven consecutive days at a “moderate” level of coronavirus transmission, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Originally, health officials said “moderate” transmission would be required for at least two weeks.

Meeting the goal would require the county’s daily tally of new cases to fall below 730.

Should transmissions continue to nosedive, the county could hit that target by the middle of March, Ferrer estimates.

What was expected to be another trigger for relaxing the rules — tied to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines for children under the age of 5 — has been scrapped, given delays in the federal review process.

“We’re no longer using the availability of the vaccine as a metric to consider lifting indoor masking, because it’s just too far out,” Ferrer said. “We think that there are sensible metrics that we take into account, and that our improving case numbers really help us make sure that we are able to continue protections for workers in places where masking will be required.”

The preservation of L.A. County’s mask rules beyond what California requires has not been without controversy. Residents and some politicians have called on the county to align with the state’s approach.

Adding fuel to the controversy has been the staging of two high-profile events at SoFi Stadium — the Jan. 30 NFC Championship Game and Sunday’s Super Bowl — where many attendees ignored the mask requirement.

“Businesses, schools, churches were fined or shut down for far less, and yet it seems like when we have something high-profile like the Super Bowl or the Emmys, the rules just don’t seem to matter anymore,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said Tuesday. “And I believe that our health orders are only effective if people believe in them, if they think they are fair and if they follow them. And keeping mandates in place that aren’t followed just erodes the credibility the public has in us as policymakers.”

She added, “The longer we drag our feet on lifting the indoor mask mandate, the more out of step we get from the state, and the more trust that we lose from our public.”

Like Hahn, Supervisor Kathryn Barger has pushed for the county to align its rules with those of the state. She reiterated the point Tuesday, writing on Twitter: “Ending indoor masking mandates may be around the corner, but isn’t happening fast enough.”

However, three board colleagues, including Chair Holly Mitchell, have not joined that call.

“Clearly, masking is a very common, low-cost, minimally invasive, worldwide public health practice,” Mitchell said. “That’s not new. It’s not new to COVID.

“To really take a step back and understand that our role as a functioning governing body is to follow public health practices, which is in the best interest of every resident of L.A. County, I think is really important,” she added. “It’s something that we should not lose sight of.”

Ferrer acknowledged that opinions over masking are divided.

“There are some people who would like us to move in one direction, and other people who are very fearful if we were to move in that direction and lift those mask mandates — including parents of schoolchildren, people who work in schools and people who work in our essential businesses,” she said.

Still, Ferrer said, the county is assessing the possibility of lifting the indoor masking requirement sooner in some settings where there are “additional layers of protection,” which could include sites that verify vaccination status. Details on that possibility could come next week.

Times staff writers Hugo Martín and August Brown contributed to this report.

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