LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday tentatively voted to lift its mandate requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter many indoor establishments and large outdoor events, but it won't become official until a second vote is held on March 30.
The city mandate ordinance, which went into effect Nov. 8, requires people over age 12 to show proof of vaccination before patronizing indoor restaurants, gyms, entertainment and recreational facilities, personal care establishments and some city buildings. The law also requires people to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend outdoor events with 5,000 or more people.
On March 9, the council voted 12-0 to approve a motion introduced by Council President Nury Martinez that essentially calls for rescinding the requirements, although individual businesses would be permitted to voluntarily require proof of vaccination from patrons. That motion requested the city attorney to prepare an ordinance to rescind the mandate, which was considered Wednesday.
The ordinance, which required unanimous approval on its first reading, received 13 yes votes, with Councilman Paul Koretz absent and only Councilman Mike Bonin dissenting. If all council members remain consistent during the second reading on March 30, the ordinance — which included an urgency clause — will go into effect immediately upon publication by the City Clerk's Office.
Bonin, explaining why he planned to vote no, said:
"I know it feels like we're out of the woods. It feels like we're all going back to normal. But there's new variants and new strains all the time. This BA.2 (variant) is spreading and we really don't know what the variant a month from now or two months are."
Martinez responded by saying, "I agree with you on that," and noted that the City Council would have to revisit the vaccination mandates "as we learn to live with this pandemic unfortunately."
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Meanwhile, Los Angeles County will align with the state next month and lift the requirement that attendees of indoor mega-events such as sporting events or concerts show proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test. The county has already dropped its requirement that people show proof of vaccination to patronize indoor portions of bars, nightclubs and lounges or to attend outdoor mega-events.
But people attending indoor events of 1,000 or more people are still required to show proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative test.
Vaccine verification or a negative test is also still required for workers at health care facilities and congregate-care facilities.
According to the county Department of Public Health, the requirement will be lifted April 1 in conjunction with the state, which is also scrapping the mandate. The move follows the lifting of other COVID restrictions -- such as indoor mask-wearing requirements -- in response to dwindling infection and hospitalization numbers.
Despite the easing of such restrictions, county health officials continue to urge precautionary steps against virus spread, noting that the BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19 is slowly beginning to expand locally, and will likely gain a stronger foothold in the county, mirroring the pattern seen overseas and in some East Coast cities.
During the week ending Feb. 26, 6.4% of all COVID specimens that were analyzed for variants turned out to be the result of BA.2, which is a more- infectious offshoot of the Omicron variant that fueled the recent winter surge in infections. That was up from 4.5% the week prior.
Health officials noted Monday that while the percentage is still low, the same pattern was seen with the Omicron and Delta variants that both grew into major spreaders of the virus. They said BA.2 is currently estimated to be responsible for 23% of sequenced cases nationally, while representing 30% of infections in New York City.
"The increasing presence of the highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant in many regions of this country reminds us that we need to remain vigilant and prepared for the possibility of more cases in the near future," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday.
"And while discouraging to face this possibility, the best way to blunt another surge in cases from increasing hospitalizations and deaths is to increase vaccination and booster coverage. Given the compelling evidence that the vaccines continue to protect against all variants, and their wide availability, residents and workers are urged to use the next couple of weeks to get to up to date on their vaccines," she added.
"Waiting until we start seeing increases in cases is not optimal, since once there are more people testing positive, there is already more community transmission."
Health officials continued to urge people to take precautionary measures -- including masks -- in crowded situations, even though they are no longer mandated.
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