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Los Angeles County will end mask order on public transportation and at airports

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Los Angeles County on Friday will end your local health order requiring the use of masks while traveling on public transportation or within transportation hubs, such as airports.

For months, Los Angeles has been the only California county still requiring widespread mask use in such settings, though some individual operators, most notably the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter rail system, also They have such rules.

Los Angeles County health officials had previously cited the increased risks of coronavirus spread and exposure to transit workers as justification for keeping the order in place. But with the number of reported coronavirus cases and hospitalizations falling markedly in recent weeks, health officials said the time has come to relax the order.

Even with the expiration of the mandate, officials said they still strongly recommend wearing masks in indoor transit settings, and that “from our perspective, means it’s a great idea to keep your mask on,” the health director said Thursday. Los Angeles County Public, Barbara Ferrer.

BART’s board of directors will also discuss the future of that agency’s mask rules Thursday night. That mandate is currently in effect until October 1. 1. Another transit agency, AC Transit, which operates bus service in the East Bay, also has a mask mandate.

Los Angeles County officials said they would reinstate a mask mandate on public transportation and at transportation hubs should case rates rise again.

Los Angeles County’s change coincides with the timing of the California Department of Public Health’s plan to eliminate state-mandated mandatory masking in jails and prisons, homeless shelters, and emergency and cooling centers in counties with a level community low COVID-19, as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Placement in that category, which includes most California counties, indicates that the pandemic is not having a major impact on hospitals. The CDC updates its community-level assessments, which indicate rates of new coronavirus-positive hospitalizations, each week, ranking counties as low, medium or high.

State masking orders would still apply in jails and prisons, shelters and cooling centers if there is an outbreak, or if the facility is in a county with a medium or high community level of COVID-19.

As of Thursday, there were no California counties in the high tier and only eight in the middle: Kern, Stanislaus, Merced, Butte, Tehama, Tuolumne, Glenn and Mariposa. About 95% of Californians live in counties with a low community level of COVID-19.

Masks are still required in health care facilities and senior and long-term care settings under a state health order. And the state requires that businesses and places, including K-12 schools, “must allow anyone to wear a mask if they want to.”

Los Angeles County is also softening its strong recommendation for universal mask wearing in indoor settings, saying instead the practice should be a matter of personal preference in light of declining coronavirus case rates. The state is doing the same thing in counties where hospitalization levels are low.

“I’m hopeful that as we get to this level where we actually have less spread than we’ve seen for quite some time, people can feel comfortable making those decisions because there’s a lot less transmission,” Ferrer said.

County health officials would still strongly advise certain people, including older or unvaccinated residents, as well as those with underlying health conditions or who live in high-poverty areas, to mask up in higher-risk settings. Such spaces include those that are crowded, involve close contact with others, or have poor airflow.

Ferrer also urged people to wear masks on public transport and in hubs like airports.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health had previously said it would ease its guidance any time the county fell below the threshold of 100 coronavirus cases per week per 100,000 residents.

Los Angeles County has now reached that mark. During the seven-day period that ended Thursday, Los Angeles County reported 98 coronavirus cases a week for every 100,000 residents.

Ferrer said a traffic masking order would be reinstated if the case rate went above 100 again and remained above that threshold for 14 consecutive days.

“You can’t just ignore the heightened risk associated with public transportation, especially for transportation workers,” he said. “If case rates increase to indicate high transmission, it is appropriate to apply more protection to prevent spread.”

Ferrer also detailed the criteria that would trigger the return of a universal public indoor mask mandate, the likes of which has not been in place since early March.

To get to that point, Los Angeles County would need to see significant spread of the coronavirus, as well as see a dramatic worsening of new coronavirus-positive hospital admissions and a significant percentage of hospital beds occupied by coronavirus-positive patients.

Conditions would have to deteriorate to a point seen only twice before in the pandemic: during the first wave of fall and winter beginning in late 2020, where morgues were so overwhelmed the National Guard was called in; and Omicron’s first surge to come after Thanksgiving 2021, which left emergency rooms flooded, ambulances delayed at hospitals and patient scheduled surgeries cancelled.

Specifically, Los Angeles County would need to meet two thresholds to return to a universal mask order, benchmarks that would be harder to hit than the plan that was rolled out this summer.

Assuming there is an elevated rate of coronavirus cases, a universal mask mandate would return only if Los Angeles County had at least 10 new coronavirus-positive hospital admissions a week per 100,000 residents and had at least 10% of all hospital beds for inpatients occupied by coronavirus. positive patients.

Currently, the county reports 6.5 new coronavirus hospital admissions per week per 100,000 residents, and only 3.6% of hospital beds are occupied by such patients.

During the peak of this summer’s wave, when it seemed a new mask order was imminent, Los Angeles County surpassed 7.2% of hospital beds occupied by positive coronavirus patients, although it temporarily surpassed the other hospitalization metric. .

“Everything we’re doing here is really about getting us to a place where we recognize how important it is to have new tools that help us keep each other safe. Those are vaccines, boosters, tests and therapies,” Ferrer said. “But when we see things getting out of hand, we need to go back to the strategies that worked before we had our shots and boosters.”

Some Los Angeles County mask orders will remain in place beyond Friday, including a requirement that anyone exposed to the coronavirus wear a mask for 10 days after exposure. Being exposed to the coronavirus is defined as sharing the same indoor air space for at least 15 minutes during a 24-hour period.

Infected people in Los Angeles County must also stay home for at least five days after first symptoms or the date of their first positive test if they have no symptoms. They can be released from isolation as early as day 6 if they are negative on a rapid test, and can generally be released from isolation by the beginning of day 11 without needing a negative test result.

Los Angeles County’s mask orders for exposed and infected people are the same as those imposed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, for employees in a workplace. The California Department of Public Health has similar guidelines for exposed and infected people, but unlike Los Angeles County and Cal/OSHA, it makes recommendations, not requirements.

On Friday, California is also largely renewing its strong recommendation that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, cover up when in public places and closed businesses. Instead, universal indoor mask use is recommended only when a county’s community level of COVID-19 is high.

The changes will give “Californians the information they need to consider when deciding when to wear a mask, including the rate of spread in the community and personal risk,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, California public health director and official. of state health, in a statement.

California health officials say the use of masks remains important for protection against infection. In 2021, the constant use of a face mask in closed public places reduced the risk of contracting a coronavirus infection, the state Department of Public Health said, citing a study it published. And a 10% increase in self-reported mask use tripled the likelihood of slowing community transmission of the coronavirus, officials said, citing a series of surveys across the country.

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