L.A. County to end mask order on public transit, in airports

Los Angeles County ends on Friday his local health ordinance requires masking on board public transport or in transportation hubs such as airports.

For months, LA has been the only California county that still mandates widespread masking in such environments — though some individual operators, notably the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter rail system, also have such rules.

LA County health officials had previously cited the increased risks of coronavirus spread and exposure to transit workers, but with a notable drop in reported cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, health officials said it was time to relax the order.

Masking is still highly recommended indoors – and “in our view [that] means it’s a great idea to put your mask on,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

BART’s board of directors voted 8-1 Thursday night to effectively end the Bay Area rail system’s mask mandate next month. The resolution authorizes BART’s general manager to issue a new mandate if Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo or Santa Clara counties, among others, reintroduce indoor masking.

“As there is currently no such requirement, BART’s current mask requirement will end if it expires after October 1,” BART officials said. “The first day that masks are not required is October 2nd.”

AC Transit, which operates bus services in the East Bay, also has a mask mandate.

LA County officials said they would reintroduce a mask mandate on public transit and in transportation hubs should case numbers rise again.

LA County’s change coincides with the timing of the California Department of Health and Human Services’ plan to remove state-mandated mask requirements in jails and jails, homeless shelters, and emergency and cooling centers in counties with a low COVID-19 community level, as defined by the US Centers for disease control and prevention.

Placement in this category — which includes most California counties — indicates the pandemic is not having a major impact on hospitals. Each week, the CDC updates its community-level ratings, which indicate rates of new coronavirus-positive hospital admissions, and ranks counties as low, intermediate, or high.

State masking orders would continue to apply in jails and jails, shelters and cold centers if there is an outbreak or if the facility is in a county with a moderate or high COVID-19 community level.

On Thursday, there were no high-level California counties and only eight mid-level counts: Kern, Stanislaus, Merced, Butte, Tehama, Tuolumne, Glenn and Mariposa. Approximately 95% of Californians live in counties with low levels of COVID-19 community.

Masks are still required in healthcare, long-term and elderly care facilities as part of a state health regulation. And the state requires businesses and venues, including K-12 schools, to “allow any person to wear a mask if they choose to.”

LA County is also relaxing its recommendation for universal indoor masking, instead saying the practice should be a matter of personal preference amid falling coronavirus case numbers. The state is doing the same in counties where hospital admissions are low.

“I’m confident that since we’ve gotten to this level where we actually have less coverage than we’ve seen in quite a while, people can feel comfortable making these decisions because there’s a lot less transmission,” said Ferrer.

County health officials would still strongly recommend certain individuals — including elderly or unvaccinated residents, as well as those with underlying health conditions or those living in areas of high poverty — to mask in higher-risk environments. Such spaces include those that are crowded, involve close contact with others, or have poor air circulation.

Ferrer also urged people to wear masks on public transport and in hubs like airports.

The LA County Department of Health earlier said it would relax its guidance if the county falls below the threshold of 100 coronavirus cases per week per 100,000 residents.

For the seven days ended Thursday, LA County was reporting 98 coronavirus cases per week per 100,000 residents.

Ferrer said a transit masking order would be reinstated if the case rate exceeded 100 again and stayed above that threshold for 14 days.

“You can’t just ignore the higher risk that comes with public transport, especially for transit workers,” she said. “When case numbers rise to indicate high transmission, it is appropriate to provide more protection to prevent spread.”

Ferrer also laid out the criteria that would trigger the return of a universal indoor public mask mandate — which has not been in effect since early March.

To get to this point, LA County would need to see a significant spread of the coronavirus, a dramatic deterioration in hospitalizations with coronavirus positives, and a significant percentage of hospital beds occupied by coronavirus-positive patients.

Conditions would have to deteriorate to a point that had only occurred twice before in the pandemic — during the first fall and winter wave, which began in late 2020, when morgues were so overwhelmed the National Guard was called in; and the first Omicron wave after Thanksgiving 2021, which flooded emergency rooms, faced ambulance delays at hospitals, and canceled patients’ scheduled surgeries.

Specifically, LA County would need to meet two thresholds to return to universal mask ordering, benchmarks that would be more difficult to achieve than the plan that was in effect this summer.

Assuming there is an elevated coronavirus case rate, a universal mask mandate would only return if LA County had at least 10 new coronavirus-positive hospital admissions per week per 100,000 residents and at least 10% of all inpatient hospital beds were occupied by coronavirus. positive patients.

Currently, the county reports 6.5 new coronavirus-positive hospital admissions per week per 100,000 people, and only 3.6% of hospital beds are occupied by such patients.

During the peak of the wave this summer, when a renewed mask order was imminent, LA County topped the list with 7.2% of hospital beds occupied by coronavirus-positive patients, although it temporarily surpassed the other hospitalization metric.

“Everything we do here is really about bringing us to a place where we recognize the importance of having new tools to help us keep each other safe. These are vaccines, boosters, tests and therapeutics,” Ferrer said. “But when we see things getting out of hand, we need to go back to the strategies that worked before we had our shots and booster shots.”

Some LA County mask orders will remain in place beyond Friday, including the requirement that anyone exposed to the coronavirus wear a mask for 10 days after exposure. Exposure to the coronavirus is defined as sharing the same indoor airspace for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.

Infected people in LA County are also required to stay home at least five days after their first symptoms or the date of their first positive test if they don’t have symptoms. They can leave isolation as early as day six if they test negative on a rapid test, and can generally exit isolation at the beginning of day eleven without requiring a negative test result.

LA County’s masking instructions for exposed and infected individuals are the same as those imposed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) for workers on a construction site. The California Department of Health and Human Services has similar guidelines for exposed and infected people, but unlike LA County and Cal/OSHA, they give them recommendations, not requirements.

California also largely retracts Friday its strong recommendation that everyone — regardless of vaccination status — should mask up in public indoor spaces and businesses. Instead, universal indoor masking is only recommended when a county’s COVID-19 community level is high.

The changes “give Californians the information they should consider when deciding when to wear a mask, including community spread rates and personal risk,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, California’s director of public health and health officer, in a statement.

According to California health officials, mask use remains important for protection against infection. In 2021, consistently wearing a face mask in indoor public places reduced the risk of coronavirus infection, the state Health Department said, citing a study it published. And a 10% increase in self-reported mask wearing tripled the likelihood of slowing community transmission of the coronavirus, officials said, citing a series of nationwide surveys.

Times contributor Gregory Yee contributed to this report.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-22/l-a-county-to-end-mask-order-on-public-transit-airports L.A. County to end mask order on public transit, in airports

Alley Einstein

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