HomeCity Government NewsCounty Expected to Shed Universal Indoor Masking

County Expected to Shed Universal Indoor Masking

First published in the March 3 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

Los Angeles County officials announced Tuesday what many residents have been waiting to hear for quite some time: the masks can come off soon.
Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County public health director, said that the universal indoor mask mandate will likely be lifted Friday, aligning with the state’s guidelines of strongly recommending but not requiring residents — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks in most public indoor settings. The county also relaxed its rules requiring businesses to verify vaccination and testing. Outdoor mega events — such as a baseball game or concert at Dodger Stadium — and indoor portions of businesses — such as bars and nightclubs — will no longer be required to check for vaccination status or a negative test.
However, the updated health order will still require masking on public transit — which is a federal law — and indoor venues to verify vaccination or a recent negative test at events with more than 1,000 people, such as a concert at the Forum or a basketball game at Crypto.com Arena.
Ferrer’s statements came a day after the L.A. County Department of Public Health made another major announcement in adopting the state’s masking measures at childcare sites and schools. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that California, Oregon and Washington would no longer require indoor masking at schools beginning March 12, and L.A. County soon after said it would align with the state’s measures in only strongly recommending masking up in indoor public settings.
“California continues to adjust our policies based on the latest data and science, applying what we’ve learned over the past two years to guide our response to the pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement. “Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high. We cannot predict the future of the virus, but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward.”
The announcements from state and county officials were welcome news for La Cañada Flintridge Mayor Terry Walker, who told the Outlook Valley Sun that she looks forward to seeing community members’ faces at the next City Council meeting that will be held in-person March 15.
“It’s different when you can’t see face-to-face and just hear voices over Zoom or read emails,” she said. “I’d like to thank our residents for their patience and understanding during this time. It was not fun for anybody, and I really think their overall compliance in willingness to do the right thing — no matter how difficult it was on their families, on their businesses — has gotten us to this point where we can now start to relax these restrictions. I would just urge everybody to continue their vigilance so that we can get past this thing once and for all.”
Though districts are allowed to continue enforcing masks, La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said that she will be recommending to the Governing Board that LCUSD align with the county and shed the mask requirement beginning Monday, March 14.
The milestone of no longer requiring masks is just one of many cities and school districts have reached since the U.S. government declared a national state of emergency due to COVID-19 nearly two years ago. LCUSD was one of the first districts in the county to be granted a waiver allowing children in transitional kindergarten through 2nd grade back on campus for limited
in-person learning, and the district completed its reopening when the older students returned to La Cañada High School after spring break last April.
“As a district we celebrate the significant declines in COVID-19 case rates, test positivity, hospitalizations and other key infection indicators over the last month,” Sinnette said in a statement. “The health and safety of our students and staff, along with keeping our schools open and providing the most productive learning environments possible, has been and remains our district’s highest priority. Although masking will not be required of students and staff as of March 14, LCUSD recognizes that masking remains a ‘strong recommendation’ of the [county], and we will continue to support students and staff who elect to wear masks, while being equally respectful of those who determine not to wear masks.”
As schools prepared to return to a regular schedule for the 2021-22 academic year, they were dealt with yet another obstacle in the Delta variant, which surged throughout the county last summer and prompted the local officials to re-implement masking mandates and strict health and safety protocols. Then came a more transmissible strain in Omicron that caused an alarming spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths all over the country.
The decision to lift the mask mandate is coming sooner than initially estimated by county health officials due to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated metrics in categorizing risk of transmission.
L.A. County was still considered a high-risk area by the CDC last week but is likely to move into the “moderate” or “low” tier Thursday with the CDC’s modified categorization, which now takes recent COVID-19 hospitalizations into account.
“We were on the cusp of moving to lower risk thresholds, and we are pretty clear that by this Thursday when CDC updates their community levels table, we will have moved either to medium or low risk. Most likely, we will have moved to low risk,” Ferrer told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in a meeting Tuesday.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes the San Gabriel Valley, was pleased to hear Ferrer’s revised health order was “on the same page” with the state but encouraged L.A. County residents to remain vigilant.
“That doesn’t mean you throw your mask away,” she said. “They do still serve a purpose, so I think it’s important for us to note that moving forward doesn’t mean that masks are irrelevant. It means it’s your choice, but at the same time, recognize that — I think the governor said — we’re moving from a pandemic to an endemic.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl echoed Barger’s comments, saying the county wasn’t “out of the woods, yet” and suggested that residents will have to adjust living to a new normal following the Omicron surge.
“I want to underscore this notion of endemic,” she said. “It might not be a familiar term to a lot of people, but it’s kind of like the common cold is endemic; it’s always with us. People are always going to catch it. It’s just not going away. … It’s not like, ‘Oh, OK, we’re back to normal,’ and it’s difficult because people have suffered enormously in many ways during this pandemic.”

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