L.A. County Businesses Can Drop Indoor Mask Rules Starting Friday

The L.A. County Department of Public Health issued a new order Wednesday that allows businesses to eliminate indoor masking requirements for staff and customers

This weekend, fully-vaccinated people in Los Angeles County will be free to go maskless at indoor establishments that check for proof of vaccination, health officials announced Wednesday.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a new order that allows businesses to eliminate masking requirements for staff and customers beginning Friday at 12:01 a.m.

Under the new regulations, venues that want to ease their masking rules can either make masks optional for customers only, or for both customers and employees.

For the latter, workers and patrons—ages five and older—would need to show proof of vaccination against COVID or a recent negative test to enter indoor spaces. They would be able to unmask only if they’re fully inoculated, the department said. Those who haven’t been vaccinated would still be allowed to enter the indoor business with a negative COVID test result, but would be required to keep their masks on.

As for businesses that prefer to relax their masking rules for patrons only, they would be subject to the same verification requirements, but employees would not.

The new rules could ultimately prove too difficult or resource-intensive for businesses such as supermarkets and malls to enforce, the Los Angeles Times reports, while enforcement might be less of a strain on businesses that already check for proof of vaccination.

Health officials cited decreasing hospital admissions and the efficacy of vaccines in reducing serious illness as reasons for the revised rules. But the revised order makes it clear that masking is still optional and “vulnerable individuals should continue to layer in all protections possible.”

“When transmission is very high, we need to create the most complete shield we can so that’s why it’s important that we layer in all the protections at hand. As transmission drops and there is less virus circulating, some tools may afford significant protections against the very worst risks associated with COVID,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said in a statement.

“Because vaccines are one of these tools, with lower rates of hospital admissions and COVID hospitalizations, it is appropriate in settings verifying vaccination or negative test status, that we transition to strongly recommending masking instead of requiring masking.”

The announcement arrives a week after California lifted its universal mask order—which was mandated in mid-December amid the Omicron surge—for indoor public settings for vaccinated people in response to the decreasing number of newly reported infections and hospitalizations. However, local health departments have the option of keeping stricter regulations if they believe it’s necessary. California officials on Feb. 28 are expected to announce a date by which the indoor mask order in K-12 school settings will be relaxed.

As of Wednesday, the department reported 1,934 new COVID cases and 36 additional COVID-related deaths.

Check back for updates to this developing story.

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