By Jim Holt
Senior Investigative Reporter
School kids from kindergarten to 12th grade, and those in child care, no longer have to wear masks outdoors after county public health officials reported daily COVID-19 hospitalizations had remained below 2,500 for the past seven days.
The outdoor mask mandate was also lifted for anyone being outdoors or attending mega events outdoors.
The lifting of the mask mandate went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
“Transmission has declined significantly and it IS time to consider sensible changes to mitigation efforts,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. “Tomorrow our daily hospitalizations will have fallen below 2,500 for seven consecutive days, so masking as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday will no longer be required while outdoors at outdoor mega events or in outdoor spaces at TK through grade 12 schools or at child care facilities.”
Indoor mask mandates could disappear by mid-March, she said, provided the same rates of transmission and hospitalization continue to drop.
“If we continue to see the 7.8% rate of decline we just experienced this past week, we could reach moderate transmission, which, as a reminder, is about 730 new cases a day, by the middle of March,” Ferrer said.
In presenting the board with the much-anticipated news, Ferrer also delivered the latest data on the pandemic.
Public Health officials confirmed 55 additional deaths and 2,133 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Of the 55 new deaths, three people were between the ages of 30-49, 10 were between the ages of 50-64, 20 were between the ages of 65-79, and 18 were aged 80 years or older. Of those 55 deaths, 42 had underlying health conditions.
So far, COVID-19 has killed 29,980 in Los Angeles County. The total number of positive cases has now reached 2,766,161 across the county. Tuesday’s positivity rate was 3.2%.
Ferrer reflected on the Super Bowl with an advisory released by the Department of Public Health in a press release, that reads: “To the many residents who watched the Super Bowl this past weekend at SoFi stadium, with friends and family at your home, or at a local bar or restaurant, please get tested if you were in crowded places where many were unmasked. “
Super Bowl fallout
Supervisor Janice Hahn, however, reflected on concerns voiced by her constituents over the apparent double standard over mask mandates.
“My office has been receiving thousands of phone calls, emails and letters from the public who are furious about our ongoing mask requirements.”
One of those commenters spoke directly to board members Tuesday during the public comment phase of the meeting, telling them: “It would be incredibly illuminating to know just how many people call in because I think it’s just overwhelming, after the Super Bowl, how many people want to speak on (public health order agenda) item 2.”
“We all saw Dr. Ferrer,” the woman said, “feeling comfortable with one-way masking. Please do the same for our children in schools.”
Before Hahn asked Ferrer about unmasked people at the Super Bowl, she thanked the public health director for lifting the outdoor mask requirement for kids.
“I do appreciate that tomorrow the outdoor mask requirement will be lifted for our kids on school playgrounds and people attending mega events. That will be a welcome change,” she said. “But I still feel it necessary to say that I think we’re making a mistake by not aligning with the state and lifting the indoor mask mandate tomorrow.”
“I believe that we’re losing the trust and the respect of the public,” Hahn said. “On Sunday we saw tens of thousands of people flagrantly violating L.A. County’s mask mandate at the Super Bowl.”
“And, frankly, Dr. Ferrer, just personal, it bothered me a little bit to see you there among people who were going directly against your health order, and I know this next statement that I’m going to say is not true, but it did make it seem that you were OK with it, and I think that’s what the public is angry about.”
“Businesses, schools, churches were fined or shut down for far less and, yet, it seems like we have something high-profile like the Super Bowl or the Emmy’s, the rules just don’t seem to matter anymore,” Hahn said. “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 of the public has in us as policy makers to make good sound decisions.”
“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 we lose from our public.”
Vaccination proof required
In her defense, Ferrer pointed out that people attending the Super Bowl had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed in.
“We added a layer of protection to the mega events, particularly the larger mega events,” she said.
In light of continually dropping numbers in cases and hospitalizations, public health officials are now focused on “post-surge strategies.”
The Public Health Department has set up a text messaging option that provides information for people who have tested positive and allows these individuals to complete their case interview online.
Public health officials said residents who test positive will receive an initial text message from the department with easy-to-follow instructions for isolation.