Editor’s note: Hours after this story was published, Long Beach announced it would ease its own mask mandate with slightly different details than the county’s new rules.

With cases of coronavirus on the decline, Los Angeles County health officials announced today that beginning Friday, businesses and venues will be able to lift mask requirements if they check to ensure patrons are vaccinated.

The order, which goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Feb. 25, comes after the state fully lifted its indoor mask mandate on Feb. 15.

Long Beach officials could not immediately be reached for comment as to whether the city, which has its own Health Department and can set its own rules, will take similar action. The city, however, has often followed the county’s lead.

County health officials said “establishments, businesses and venues” have two options for easing mask requirements or lifting them entirely:

  1. If all customers (5 and older) and are verifiably fully vaccinated, no one would be required to wear masks indoors.
  2. If some staff and/or customers are not fully vaccinated but instead provide proof of a recent negative test, they would still be required to wear masks while indoors (except while actively eating or drinking), while the fully vaccinated would forgo masks.

Regardless of vaccination status, county health officials still recommend that vulnerable people such as seniors and those with pre-existing conditions continue to utilize as many protections as possible, including masks.

“While there are powerful tools that impede virus transmission, none are perfect which is why we often need to use a variety of safety measures to reduce transmission,” county public health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

“As transmission drops and there is less virus circulating, some tools may afford significant protections against the very worst risks associated with COVID,” Ferrer continued. “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.”

LA County on Wednesday reported only 1,934 new cases of COVID-19, an exponential decrease from the tens of thousands of new daily cases being reported regularly last month. County officials also reported 36 additional deaths.

Countywide hospitalizations continue to fall, reaching 1,204 Wednesday, down from over 4,800 on Jan. 20. The county’s positivity rate increased slightly from 1.9% Tuesday to 2.3%, which remains well below last month’s high of over 20%.

In Long Beach, meanwhile, officials reported 103 new cases Wednesday and four more coronavirus-related deaths for a total of 1,209 since March 2020. Hospitalizations also continue to fall, reaching 124 at area hospitals.

As of today, the city’s cumulative daily cases decreased to 159, while the positivity rate dipped to 4%, city health department spokeswomen Jennifer Rice Epstein said in a text message Wednesday.

The change in county policy follows rising pressure from two members of the county Board of Supervisors for a loosening of the mask mandate to more closely align with the state. LosAngeles County, however, kept its mandate in place, setting parameters for ending the requirement that likely will not be met until the end of March.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger initially pushed for the county to align with the state, saying the contradictory requirements were leading to apathy and lax compliance among residents. Supervisor Janice Hahn joined Barger in that call last week, pointing to the recent Super Bowl in Inglewood as an example of people willfully ignoring the county’s masking guidelines.

Hahn broke the news on Twitter Tuesday that the county planned to ease the indoor mask mandate for businesses that verify vaccination status.

“This puts us significantly closer to aligning with the state,” she wrote.

Barger hailed the announcement, writing that she was “glad to hear”of the pending change.

“I’ve been calling for this all along,” she said.

The county lifted its outdoor mask mandate for large event venues, schools and child-care centers last week. Masks will continue to be required indoors at schools under a state requirement that is expected to be re-evaluated at the end of February.

The county’s indoor mask mandate will remain in effect at businesses that do not verify customers’ vaccination status. County officials said that mandate will not be lifted until:

  • the county’s level of COVID transmission falls to the “moderate”level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and remains there for two weeks; or
  • COVID vaccines have been available to residents under age 5 for at least eight weeks; and
  • no emerging COVID “variants of concern” have been identified that could spark another surge in cases.

According to Ferrer, reaching the CDC’s “moderate” level of transmission requires the county to have a seven-day cumulative infection rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. As of Wednesday, the county’s rate was 133 per 100,000 residents.

City News Service contributed to this report. 

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.