By Jim Holt
Senior Investigative Reporter
Masks are no longer required indoors — just strongly recommended, as of Friday.
As promised, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department issued a modified health order Thursday stipulating that while indoor masking is strongly recommended, it is not required.
“With fewer people becoming infected and becoming severely ill with COVID and safety requirements being relaxed, it is very tempting to think the pandemic is over and that we can return to the way things were before the pandemic,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.
“And while transmission has greatly slowed and we’re in a much better place with our powerful tools that help so many avoid the worst effects of this virus, there do continue to be thousands of people whose lives, families and work are disrupted each day because either they, or someone close to them, is newly infected with is COVID-19. And for some of these people their infection can and will lead to more severe illness,” Ferrer said.
The new health order goes into effect Friday and applies to people vaccinated and unvaccinated, except in high-risk settings where federal and state regulations continue to require masking.
Those special settings include:
• Everyone using public transit.
• All those in emergency shelters.
• Health care settings.
• Correctional and detention facilities.
• Homeless shelters.
• Long-term care facilities.
The decision follows a steady drop in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
On Thursday, Ferrer also shared the latest statistics for L.A. County.
The Public Health Department on Thursday reported 1,605 new positive cases of the virus (2,800,741 cases to date) and 59 new deaths (30,911 deaths to date). Public Health officials said 852 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and, to date, more than 11,450,000 individuals have been tested and 22% of those have tested positive to date.
Work sites received particular attention on the issue of masks.
At all sites where masking indoors is no longer mandatory, employers will be required to offer, for voluntary use, medical-grade masks and respirators to employees working indoors in close contact with other workers and/or customers.
Masks are required indoors at schools and child care facilities until March 11, when masks are expected to be strongly recommended for students, children, teachers and staff regardless of vaccination status.
Health officials noted that school districts in L.A. County may continue to require masking at schools and during school activities, along with other appropriate safety protections for their school communities.