Photo by Chava Sanchez/Laist

By Sam Benson Smith and Lita Martinez

Originally published Feb 7, 2022

California’s mask mandate will expire on Feb. 16, Governor Gavin Newsom announced via Twitter on Monday afternoon.

“CA’s case rate has decreased by 65% since our Omicron peak. Our hospitalizations have stabilized across the state,” read Gov. Newsom’s tweet. “Our statewide indoor mask requirement will expire on 2/15.”

This expiration, which will mean masks are required through Feb. 15, will not apply to unvaccinated people, the message continues.

The state’s requirement impacts counties such as Orange and San Diego that did not already have their own mask mandates in place. L.A. County’s mask mandate will remain in place as long as COVID-19 transmission remains high, according to L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

Ferrer spoke to our newsroom about L.A. County’s plans following Gov. Newsom’s announcement.

“I think, unfortunately, moving on here at LA County means keeping our masks on while we’re indoors for a while longer,” Ferrer said on our newsroom’s public affairs show, All Things Considered. “You know, our case numbers are still, you know, extraordinarily high. I mean, they’re really… they’re higher than they ever were at any other point during the pandemic, except in the middle of this last surge.”

Ferrer also said that she understands that people are “beyond impatient” and just want to “get rid of…[the] math and move on”. But her message has remained the same since last week when local health officials were feeling the pressure to follow San Francisco’s lead and do away with masking requirements.

“When transmission is lower, we will appropriately be relaxing some masking requirements. But we’re not there yet,” Ferrer said during her weekly press briefing last Thursday. “Today we’re reporting 11,548 new cases, which is about a quarter of the number that we reported several weeks ago when we hit our record high of nearly 46,000 cases in a single day.”

When COVID transmission falls into the “moderate” category for two consecutive weeks, as determined by U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance, masking rules may be relaxed indoors in the county.

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The CDC’s system has four categories and is determined by two metrics: new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and the positivity rate. If those metrics fall into different categories, the CDC uses the higher metric to determine the appropriate category for that county.

  • Low transmission is considered no more than 10 cases per 100,000 people, or a test positivity rate of less than 5%. 
  • Moderate transmission is 10 to 50 cases per 100,000 people, or a positivity rate between 5% and 8%. 
  • Substantial transmission is 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, or a positivity rate between 8% and 10%, 
  • High transmission is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of 10% or higher.

Ferrer also said that the public needs to keep in mind the most at-risk members of the community, like essential workers, before rushing to “declare victory over the pandemic.”

The California Department of Public Health also announced on Monday additional changes to policies put in place in response to the omicron surge.

Additional visitation requirements for long-term care facilities that were put in place on Jan. 7 will be lifted Tuesday. Additionally, the definitions for indoor and outdoor mega events will shift to align with pre-surge guidance on Feb. 16; from 5,000 to 10,000 attendees for outdoor events and 500 to 1,000 for indoor events.

“Omicron has loosened its hold on California, vaccines for children under 5 are around the corner, and access to COVID-19 treatments is improving,” read a statement from Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer. “With things moving in the right direction, we are making responsible modifications to COVID-19 prevention measures, while also continuing to develop a longer-term action plan for the state.”

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2022 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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