Long Beach announced Wednesday that City Council meetings will begin to transition back to an in-person format March 15, adding to a host of rapid changes its made to COVID-19 protocols in the past week.

The council joined other public commissions and committees on Jan. 18 when it transitioned back to virtual meetings due to the dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant during the holiday season.

The March 8 council meeting will remain virtual, but the March 15 meeting will be held as a hybrid meeting with in-person attendance and virtual participation as an option.

Starting with the March 22 meeting, all City Council meetings will go back to an in-person setting and members of the public will have to be present to give a public comment or submit written testimony.

Meeting noticing requirements could allow the March 8 meeting to be held in person so long as an updated agenda telling the public it could attend in person is posted by Friday. Allison Bunma, an assistant City Clerk, said she was unclear why the council is taking a phased-in approach, but said it could be that the city is still being cautious.

In the past five days, the city has gone from speeding up the implementation of a new health order that allowed vaccinated persons to forgo masks indoors, and allowed people to self-attest to their vaccination status, to aligning with a much looser order issued by the state that allows people to forgo masks altogether regardless of vaccination status.

The Long Beach order will still require bars and nightclubs to check vaccination status to let people go mask-free.

Long Beach Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis in an interview Wednesday the health department’s general COVID-19 guidelines still recommend that people hold large meetings virtually if possible.

“Virtual is safer, but we do know that lots of people are eager to get back to meetings in person,” she said

The City Clerk’s office said that other city commissions and committees will continue to meet virtually for at least the next month, and then it will be up to each body’s chair to decide if they will resume in-person meetings as well. Council members approved a  30-day extension Tuesday night that allows public meeting to be held virtually during the current state of emergency, which are both still in place at the state and city level.

Assembly Bill 361 was adopted in September and could allow public meetings to be held virtually through the end of 2023 if the state of emergency is not ended and chairs of public meetings continue to opt for the virtual setting.

Council meetings will continue to be streamed on the city’s broadcasting channel as well as on its Youtube channel.

Staff reporter Kelly Puente contributed to this report. 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.