LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- California health officials lifted the statewide COVID-19 indoor mask mandate in public settings for vaccinated people on Feb.16 at 12:01 a.m. Children, however, are still required to keep their masks on at school for at least another two weeks.
Health & Human Services Agency Sec. Dr. Mark Ghaly announced Monday in a press conference that the state will reassess the current mask requirement for schools on Feb. 28.
Most Southern California counties, with the exception of Los Angeles County, will follow the state's lead and lift their indoor mask mandates as omicron cases decrease. Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties lifted universal mask requirements for most indoor public settings beginning Feb. 16.
Some officials argue that COVID's spread has also waned significantly across the region and that relaxing mask requirements is part of a shift toward a "new normal" of living with the virus rather than attempting to snuff out its spread completely.
Public health officials, however, are still encouraging indoor mask use.
"As we move from a requirement to a strong recommendation, I keep saying it that way because it's important to understand that we're not lifting a masking concept in California. We aren't going form masks one day, don't mask the next," Ghaly said.
However, a few things are changing in L.A. County.
On Tuesday afternoon, the county lifted its mandate that requires people to wear masks at outdoor mega-events and outdoors at K-12 schools and child care centers. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors that the outdoor mask requirement will be formally lifted at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
The county, however, will maintain its indoor mask mandate for all people, regardless of vaccination status.
According to Ferrer, the county's indoor mask rule will not be lifted until the county's virus-transmission rate falls to the "moderate" level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for two straight weeks, or until COVID vaccines have been available to children under 5 years old for eight weeks.
Reaching the CDC's "moderate" designation requires the county to have a cumulative, seven-day new case rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. According to the CDC's website, the county's rate was about 459 per 100,000 as of Monday.
The rate has been steadily dropping, and Ferrer said last week that at the current rate of decline, the county could reach the "moderate" category within a month.
The CDC has said cloth masks are not that effective against omicron, but Santa Clara County Health Director Sara Cody says residents in her county still need this protection.
"Masks are very important additional layer and have been throughout the pandemic," she said. "We need to layer up, need many layers in place when there's a lot of COVID circulating right now. We are still at the high levels of community transmission, we are in the CDC red, and that's why we are still requiring masks indoors."
- When - The California indoor mask mandate will expire at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. In Southern California Los Angeles County will not follow the state's lead. However, the county's outdoor mask requirement will expire at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday as well.
- Kids - Unvaccinated individuals over age 2 will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings.
- Business operators - Businesses, venue operators and hosts may determine their own paths forward to protect staff and patrons and may choose to require all patrons to wear masks.
- Where masks are still required - Indoor masking is still required in California for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in public transportation; health care settings; congregate settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters; long term care facilities; and in K-12 schools and childcare settings.
- Strongly recommended by the state- Masks still strongly recommended; vaccines and boosters urged to further strengthen defenses.
Here's some guidance from the state of California on current mask recommendations and requirements.
Full list of where masks are still required:
- Indoor public spaces (until Feb. 15, 2022)
- Workplaces (until Feb. 15, 2022)
- Public transit
- Healthcare settings (including long term care facilities)
- Adult and senior care facilities
- Indoors in K-12 schools, childcare, and other youth settings
- State and local correctional facilities and detention centers
- Homeless shelters, emergency shelters, and cooling centers
Masks are required for unvaccinated people and recommended for everyone in:
- Places of worship
When are masks exempt in the places that still require masking?
- Children under two years old are exempt at all times, due to the risk of suffocation.
- Those with the following conditions are also exempt: a medical condition or mental health condition disability that precludes wearing a mask. This includes those for whom a mask could obstruct breathing, who are unconscious or incapacitated, unable to remove a mask without assistance.
- People for whom seeing the mouth is essential for communication - hearing impaired or those communicating with a person who is hearing impaired.
- People for whom wearing a mask would create a risk as they work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators, or workplace safety guidelines.
How effective are cloth masks?
Face masks can help slow the spread of coronavirus and single layer cloth masks are the least effective, unless they are layered, preferably with three or more. Here is a list of masks recommended by the California government.
- Double mask
- Fitted surgical mask
- Surgical mask
- Cloth mask with three or more layers
Whatever mask you wear, make sure it fits to your face closely and without gaps.
Do employers need to provide masks for unvaccinated workers?
Yes. The state requires employers to provide unvaccinated employees with NIOSH-certified respirator masks for voluntary use when working indoors, or in a vehicle with others.
Unvaccinated workers must wear masks in state offices.
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City News Service and KGO-TV contributed to this report.