Public health officials highlighted the need for Los Angeles County residents to keep wearing masks indoors over the next month on Monday as the region’s vaccination rate declines amid a push toward herd immunity.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its federal guidance last week to say fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most indoor spaces.
But earlier Monday morning, state officials said California’s own rules requiring masks for all indoors will stay in place until June 15, at which point the state will align with CDC guidance.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, head of the state’s health and human services agency, said the delay in adopting the federal rules “will give Californians time to prepare for this change, while we continue the relentless focus on delivering vaccines particularly to underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic.”
In a news briefing follow the state’s announcement Monday, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the extra month “gives us time to make sure we do this responsibly.”
L.A. County will follow the state’s guidance on masking, and expects to lift the mandate for fully vaccinated people on June 15 provided health indicators are still headed in the right direction, county public health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
While fully vaccinated people must mask up in businesses and crowded spaces both indoors and outdoors in L.A. County, they can go maskless indoors in private settings where they’re around other fully vaccinated people, or when they’re outside in uncrowded areas. Masks are still required for unvaccinated people outdoors.
Ferrer said the CDC is acknowledging the need to maintain local protections amid the continued spread of more contagious virus variants, and its guidance “was not meant to eliminate current safety modifications at local and state levels.”
Distancing and masking requirements will also remain in place at workplaces statewide until the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health changes its guidelines.
The state agency’s board is set to vote on new workplace safety standards Thursday. If approved, businesses where all employees are fully vaccinated would be exempt from physical distancing requirements starting July 31.
Face coverings would still be required at all workplaces, except when a worker is alone in a room, when everyone in a room is fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, when people are eating or drinking more than 6 feet apart, or when fully vaccinated employees are outdoors.
Workplaces or other organizations where several people have interest in getting a vaccine can now fill out a form on the county’s website to have a mobile vaccination team visit their location.
As of last Friday, 44% of those eligible in L.A. County were fully vaccinated, and 58% had received at least one shot.
But there are some areas where fewer than half of residents have even one dose, including Westlake, Echo Park, Compton, West L.A. and the Antelope Valley, according to Solis.
Around 80% of those eligible countywide will need to be vaccinated before the region can reach herd immunity, which officials previously said could come by late July.
But that would require stable vaccination rates, and Ferrer said Monday there’s been a “serious decrease” in people showing up to get a shot. Last week the county distributed about 370,000 doses, compared to 530,000 doses two weeks before, and sites working with the federal government have also reported a significant decline.
However, Ferrer noted there was “great turnout” among children ages 12 to 15 since they became eligible for a shot late last week, and 16- and 17-year-olds are continuing to get vaccinated at a “decent pace.”
Those who still need a vaccine can get one without an appointment at any county-run site and most city-run sites, among other places. Visit vaccinatelacounty.com for details.
With more than half of L.A. County residents unvaccinated, officials are still concerned about the spread of variants in the region.
The U.K. and California variants remained the two most common last week, with the U.K. variant overtaking the homegrown one as the most dominant in the region. Additionally, the county’s lab detected the largest number of Brazilian variant cases of any week yet, officials said.
However, case numbers and other metrics remain low and stable. Over the past month, the county has seen small declines in the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Ferrer said.
The average number of outbreaks at workplaces has dropped 88% since the winter surge, down from nearly 200 each week to now 20 weekly. Outbreaks at health care facilities have decreased from 172 a week in January to five last week, Ferrer said.
On Monday, the county reported four additional COVID-19 deaths and 161 new cases, though figures are usually lower at the start of the week due to a weekend reporting lag.
“While we’re relieved by these low numbers, there continues to be COVID-19 transmission in L.A. County, particularly among those who are not fully vaccinated,” Ferrer said.
The health director said many of the fears stopping people from getting a vaccine are based on misinformation circulating on social media, including false stories that vaccines are linked to infertility and can make others sick.
“Neither of these is possible,” she said. “These vaccines do not affect fertility, nor can someone get sick because you who were vaccinated stood next to them. There’s no COVID-19 virus, dead or alive, in any of these vaccines.”