LOS ANGELES - Beginning March 4, indoor mask-wearing is no longer mandatory in Los Angeles County, thanks to revised data released by federal health officials Thursday showing a decreased impact of COVID-19 on the county's healthcare system.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially moved the county out of its "high" virus activity category and into the "low" category. The CDC updates its county-level data every Thursday.
The CDC categories are based largely on the number of new virus-related hospital admissions and on the overall availability of hospital beds.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said earlier this week that once the CDC revised the county's classification, a new Health Officer Order will be issued — taking effect Friday — that removes the county's long-standing mandate for people to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. That move will put the county in alignment with the state, which dropped its mask mandate on Tuesday.
Mask-wearing, however, will continue to be "strongly recommended," particularly in crowded settings or while interacting with people at higher risk of severe illness from the virus.
Masking will continue to be required in higher-risk settings, including health care facilities, transit centers, airports, aboard public transit, in correctional facilities and at homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.
Indoor masks also continue to be required on K-12 school campuses, although the county and state will lift that requirement on March 12. The policy, however, is expected to remain in place in the Los Angeles Unified School District until the end of the school year.
County health officials also noted that people attending indoor mega-events of 1,000 or more people -- such as sporting events -- will still be required to show proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative test to be admitted. Vaccine verification or a negative test will also still be required at health care facilities and congregate-care facilities.
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The county has dropped its requirement that people show proof of vaccination to patronize indoor portions of bars, nightclubs and lounges.
While the mask mandate will likely be lifted, Ferrer warned Tuesday that the virus remains a threat. She said the county will be monitoring seven "alert signals" that could portend increased virus activity. Three of them are community-wide metrics -- variants of concern, COVID-19 emergency department visits and cumulative COVID case rates in high-poverty communities.
The other four "alert signals" involve specific sectors, tracking outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities, at K-12 schools, at homeless shelters and at worksites. If two or more of those signals rise to alert levels, the county will work to determine what is causing the increase and whether restrictions need to be reinstated.
The county reported 80 new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, raising the overall death toll from the virus to 30,858. One of the deaths reported Wednesday was a person between ages 12 and 17.
The county also reported a total of 1,626 new COVID cases, raising the cumulative pandemic total to 2,799,169.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing for the virus was 1.2% as of Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
According to state figures, there were 907 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, down from 927 on Tuesday. Of those patients, 157 were being treated in intensive care, down from 174 the previous day.
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