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LA Keeps Indoor Masks As California’s Mandate Expires

A sign instructs customers to wear a mask before entering a grocery story in Los Angeles.
A customer enters a grocery store enforcing the wearing of masks in Los Angeles in July of 2021.
(Chris Delmas
AFP via Getty Images)
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California has now reached another pandemic turning point: dropping the indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people.

But local governments can set their own policies and Los Angeles County health officials have chosen to keep the indoor mask mandate in place. That’s in line with the current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — to mask up indoors in areas with substantial or high coronavirus transmission, which covers most of the country.

However, some masking rules have been relaxed this week in L.A. County since we have reached the benchmark of seven consecutive days of hospitalizations below 2,500 patients. Masks are no longer required outdoors at child care facilities, K-12 schools and outdoor mega events.

Where Mandates Remain In Place

Mask mandates remain in place on public transit, and indoors in schools, hospitals and shelters throughout California.

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The universal indoor mandate was first put in place in December, when omicron began to surge in the Golden State. California health officials imposed a one-month indoor mask mandate for everyone aged two and up, regardless of their vaccination status.

In January, when case counts exploded and hospitals were again slammed as health workers tested positive, the mask mandate was extended for another month in an attempt to prevent more people from getting infected.

A graph showing overall COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in California since the pandemic began. The omicron surge which began in Dec. 2021 accounted for the highest peak of cases.
Courtesy of the California Department of Public Health)

Now, the omicron surge is rapidly receding. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said at a news conference Monday that cases statewide are down 75% from a month ago and hospitalizations have dropped more than 40% in that time period. Ghaly said state projections show a continued decline in hospital numbers.

He said:

"The idea that we'll continue to see reductions in numbers is very important for the decisions that we're making now. We've always talked about how we need to keep the hospital system well supported and protected so they can take care of all the needs of Californians. And this gives us a little bit more confidence that’s where we’re headed.”

While the numbers are improving in L.A. County, health officials have set stricter standards. To adjust the standards for indoor spaces, such as offices and restaurants, the local plan requires that community transmission levels fall into the CDC’s moderate category — about 730 cases per day — for at least two weeks. L.A. County has averaged 4,460 cases per day in the past week.

Local officials recently set another benchmark for easing indoor mask rules: having the vaccine for children six months to four-years-old available for eight weeks. But vaccine developers are not ready to seek federal approval for the youngest cohort.

Santa Clara and Mendocino are the only other California counties keeping the indoor mask mandate in place.

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.