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LA County’s 3-Year COVID Emergency Is Reaching To An End. Here’s What's Changing

A woman wearing a blue face mask steps out of the sliding doors at the entrance of LAC+USC Hospital emergency department.
A woman steps out of the Emergency section at LAC+USC Hospital in Los Angeles, California on Dec. 8, 2020.
(Frederic J. Brown
AFP via Getty Images)
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After three years, Los Angeles County’s COVID health emergency ended this Friday. The pivot reflects the coronavirus declining impact on residents. Reported cases and hospitalizations are continuing to trend down. Circulating variants are all decedents of omicron, meaning the bivalent booster is still highly effective.

"With no sign of a new strain with novel mutations or high likelihood of rapid growth in the strains that are circulating, we are fairly confident that we're going to enjoy another stable spring," said Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County's public health director, at a news conference on Friday.

A mask mandate for health workers will remain in place, partially driven by COVID's high mortality rate. On average five people per day die from COVID in L.A. County. That’s lower than the winter peak of 164 in early January, but still higher than last autumn’s lull of 43, and last spring’s low of 24.

"My hope is that our hospitalization and death rates continue to decline. I would love to see our lowest ever number since the pandemic started. That hasn't happened yet," Ferrer said.

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Rent protections expire

Earlier this month, the county Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal intended to soften the blow for renters who could soon face eviction. L.A. County’s COVID-19 emergency tenant regulations have given low-income tenants protections in eviction court if they can’t pay rent on time due to economic harms brought on by the pandemic. But those tenants will have to pay their April rent on time — or face eviction.

We have more on what the new rules say: LA’s COVID-19 Eviction Protections Have Ended. Here’s Everything Renters Need To Know About What Comes Next

Health changes

The move to end the COVID emergency triggered a review of local public health officer orders which were put in place under the emergency authorization. The L.A. County Department of Public Health, Health Services and the Department of Social Services had to complete the review by the end of March. The departments reported back to the board with a list of orders still in play, such as mobile vaccine vans.

From a patient perspective, you won’t see drastic changes with the expiration of the COVID health emergency in L.A. County. California’s state COVID emergency ended February 28, and the federal emergencies are still in play until May 11. Instead, it marks a shift toward treating COVID like other communicable diseases and moving intervention measures to individuals and their healthcare providers.

Vaccines will remain widely available and COVID testing will be provided at public health sites. Public Health will also “continue to use its long standing non-emergency state law communicable disease control authority to take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” according to a statement by the department.

“This includes continuing to require that individuals infected with COVID isolate themselves from others for a minimum of five days, requiring businesses and schools to report COVID case clusters to DPH, and requiring healthcare workers be vaccinated and wear masks when providing patient care and when they’re in patient care areas,” the statement adds.

Health workers must keep masks on

All three health departments in L.A. County will keep a COVID mask mandate in place for all health workers when they are around patients. The move is more restrictive than the state, which will roll back both rules April 3.

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Visitors and patients will no longer be required to wear a mask. Masks won’t disappear in all medical offices. Even without the state requirement, individual clinics and hospitals in California can require their staff to wear masks at their own discretion.

Pasadena Public Health Department along with the City of Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services will join L.A. County Public Health in keeping the masking policy. It will be reassessed by September 2023, depending on federal health guidance.

Outdoor dining permits grandfathered in

The county’s emergency order that allowed restaurants to expand seating onto public walkways and parking lots also expired March 31. But if your restaurant is in an unincorporated area of the county and you currently have a permit, you can keep the extra tables out.

The permit has been extended to Jan. 1, 2024 for existing permit holders while the county develops a permanent outdoor dining program. If your restaurant is in one of the county’s 88 cities, you’ll need to check with your local jurisdiction.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.

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