Masks must still be worn inside L.A. County businesses while guidance is reviewed: Officials

Masks are still required for anyone entering a business or crowded indoor area in Los Angeles County until further guidance is issued, public health officials said Thursday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its mandate.

The CDC now says fully vaccinated people can remove their masks in most indoor settings. Both California and L.A. County public health officials will be reviewing the federal guidelines to make “sensible adjustments to the orders that are currently in place,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.

But until the new local guidance is ready, Ferrer says masks are still required in public indoor spaces.

“I do want to note the fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask when they’re indoors around other fully vaccinated people, or when they’re outside in uncrowded areas,” she said.

According to the CDC’s updated guidelines, vaccinated people are only required to wear masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. The change is meant to pave the way for the reopening of workplaces and schools.

“Today is a great day for America,” an unmasked President Joe Biden said in announcing the new guidance at the White House Thursday.

But in L.A. County, public health officials say everyone must still adhere to distancing and masking requirements at workplaces until the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health changes its guidelines.

“Until Cal/OSHA changes these requirements, the county cannot be less restrictive,” Ferrer said.

The state agency’s board is set to vote on new workplace safety standards next Thursday, May 20. 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.

“The current regulation requires that everybody be fully masked, and that people really need to maintain that 6 feet of distance,” Ferrer said.

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.

According to the latest data, 59% of those in L.A. County over age 16 have at least one dose of the vaccine. The county’s vaccination rate is expected to increase as shots rollout to children ages 12 to 15 following approval of the Pfizer vaccine for use in the younger age group this week.

Earlier this week, Ferrer said around 80% of those eligible countywide will need to be vaccinated before the region can reach herd immunity, which she expects by late July.

For the unvaccinated, the threat of highly contagious virus variants remains. The UK and California variants remain the two most common, but the California one is no longer dominant, Ferrer said.

Additionally, the county’s lab detected the largest number of Brazilian variant cases of any week yet, according to the public health director.

“The identification of these variants, and the news of spreading variants from across the globe, highlights the need for L.A. County residents to continue to take measures to protect themselves and others,” she said. “This is particularly true for those who are not vaccinated.”

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