Health officials provide framework for lifting mask mandate

Los Angeles County Seal.

By Jose Herrera 

Signal Staff Writer 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors heard Tuesday what it will take to lift COVID-19 masking requirements — but the county’s health director told the supervisors she doesn’t think the requirements will be met until late next year unless the pace of vaccinations increases. 

Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, joined the supervisors to provide an update of necessary actions on the public health order related to COVID-19 and news related to the COVID-19 vaccine.  

“At this time of last year, we started seeing a major uptick of our winter surge,” Ferrer said. “We had 1,200 cases in the middle of October to about 2,000 in November, and then it kept going up. This year we have many of our residents vaccinated against COVID-19, offering a powerful layer of protection, and we hope to prevent the enormous suffering we endured last winter.” 

Ferrer shared recent data regarding the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations throughout L.A. County. Although the numbers are decreasing and low compared to previous months, she noted that the Public Health Department is waiting two to three weeks to see the outcome of COVID-19 cases after Halloween weekend.  

She then laid out the necessary framework before lifting the masking mandate.  

She noted that indoor masking will remain mandatory due to federal and state requirements on public transit and transportation hubs, and at TK-12, child care, and youth settings; health care settings; correctional facilities; homeless and emergency shelters and cooling centers; and indoor mega events involving more than 1,000 people.  

Ferrer outlined that before masking requirements are lifted, all of the following criteria need to be met: 

L.A. County case rates must demonstrate three consecutive weeks at or below moderate transmission as defined by the Centers for Disease and Control — that is, fewer than 50 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents; hospitalizations must remain low and stable at or below 600 daily COVID-19 hospitalizations for three consecutive weeks; 80% or more of county residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated; and there are no emerging reports of significantly circulating new variants of concern that threaten vaccine effectiveness. 

For masking requirements to be lifted at indoor events or establishments involving fewer than 1,000 people — including indoor offices and worksites — sites must have a vaccination verification process in place, and all employees and customers must be fully vaccinated, accommodating with additional requirements those employees with approved exemptions. 

However, she said at the rate at which residents are getting vaccinated, the county wouldn’t meet the criteria until late next year.  

“The more people we have fully vaccinated the quicker we drive down that rate of infection,” Ferrer said.  

Ferrer also noted that she’s wary of the coming winter months, and hopes to see the vaccination rates increase as the winter holidays come up and more people consider gathering with family and friends.  

The county offers COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots at county sites and mobile sites. Pharmacies and local health providers can also administer vaccines, said Ferrer.  

Additionally, the county is prepared to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 once the Centers for Disease Control grant final approval, according to Ferrer. 

A network of nearly 900 providers countywide is prepared to provide vaccines to children. County mobile vaccination teams will also work to supplement vaccinations offered by existing health care providers, according to the Public Health officials.  

In November, vaccines for children will be offered at 480 school-based events with a focus on schools in high-need areas, according to health officials. 

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