L.A. County on track to lift indoor mask rules Friday

Los Angeles County has officially exited the high coronavirus community level as calculated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning it is on track to lift its indoor mask order Friday.

L.A. County health officials have been waiting for the CDC’s weekly update of COVID-19 levels by county — issued Thursdays — before acting.

Once the county exited the high level, officials said earlier this week that L.A. County health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, would issue a new health order — effective Friday — that will lift the indoor mask order in places such as bars, stores, offices, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters.

Businesses can choose to retain their mask requirement for both customers and employees. And residents can still choose to wear a mask in any public place.

The revised order, effective Friday, also is expected to relax some of the local vaccine verification rules. L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said vaccine verification no longer will be required at outdoor mega-events — such as at theme parks, SoFi and Dodger stadiums, the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and the Hollywood Bowl — and no longer will be required in indoor portions of bars, lounges, nightclubs, distilleries, wineries and breweries.

But vaccine verification or a recent negative test still will be required at indoor mega-events — those with more than 1,000 people, such as NBA games at Crypto.com Arena, formerly known as the Staples Center — which remains a statewide requirement. Vaccine verification also is required for healthcare workers and employees at nursing homes.

Responding to the expected lifting of L.A. County’s mask order, Universal Studios Hollywood announced Thursday it will no longer require guests visiting the theme park to wear masks or show proof of vaccinations or a negative COVID-19 test, starting Friday.

Even with the changes, California and L.A. County officials are still “strongly recommending” mask use in indoor public settings.

The state will continue to require mask use in indoor K-12 settings until March 11. Starting March 12, school operators can decide whether to require masks indoors.

The CDC order requiring masks to be worn on public transportation, including planes, remains in effect. So do orders from the California Department of Public Health, which mandates mask-wearing in healthcare settings, nursing homes, homeless shelters, jails, prisons and emergency shelters.

Ferrer’s plans don’t affect stricter local vaccine verification orders, such as those implemented by the city of Los Angeles and West Hollywood. A city of L.A. ordinance, known as SafePassLA, requires businesses such as bars, indoor restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to check that customers are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Cities in Northern California with similar rules include Oakland and Berkeley. San Francisco requires customers of indoor gyms, restaurants and bars to either show proof of being up to date on vaccinations — including a booster shot, if eligible — or proof of a recent negative coronavirus test.

Ferrer said she’s strongly recommending everyone still wear masks in indoor public settings until the risk for the most vulnerable further reduces.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, also said this week that he’s strongly recommending mask use indoors statewide to further protect the vulnerable until case rates drop more.

Wearing a mask will still help protect children still too young to be vaccinated as well as people who are at greater risk for worrisome complications from COVID-19, even if they are vaccinated, such as older people, those with weakened immune systems and people with chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, lung disease and heart disease.

Continuing to wear a mask also will help reduce the chance of infection that could lead to “long COVID,” which can even affect people who didn’t suffer symptoms from a coronavirus infection. Long COVID can result in difficulty breathing, symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities, and difficulty thinking or concentrating, sometimes referred to as brain fog.

Health experts say it remains prudent to avoid getting infected. Months from now, it’s expected that the risk of severe illness and death will be further reduced as more quantities of anti-COVID drugs such as Paxlovid become available in greater supply.

Most California counties, including San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, allowed a universal indoor mask order issued by the state in mid-December to expire in mid-February.

The cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, which operate their own public health departments independent of L.A. County, followed suit Friday and Saturday, respectively. The city of Palm Springs lifted its mask order Monday.

Santa Clara County, Northern California’s most populous county, was one of the last counties in that region to keep a mask order, but lifted it Wednesday. Mendocino County still has a local mask order but is expected to reassess the need for one in the coming weeks.

California’s court system has decided to rescind four emergency measures, effective April 30, that have been in place for nearly two years, since the early weeks of the pandemic.

With the ending of those measures, state courts no longer may extend the time to hold preliminary hearings in criminal cases from 10 to 30 days; won’t allow courts to extend the time to bring civil cases to trial by up to 60 days; won’t suspend state rules that bars the use of technology to conduct judicial proceedings and court operations remotely; and won’t allow courts to adopt local rules without circulating them for 45 days of public comment.

California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye announced the rescission of those orders Thursday after Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled back a number of pandemic-related executive orders.

“These events mark an important and hopeful change as the residents and government of our state transition to a semblance of pre-COVID-19 California,” Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement.

Times staff writer Hugo Martín contributed to this report.

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