Late Thursday night, Long Beach issued a new health order that lifted the mask mandate for vaccinated people in many indoor settings. The order, which went into effect as of 12:01 a.m. Friday, came a day earlier than local health officials had promised.

That means, as of today, the city no longer requires vaccinated people to wear masks in offices, restaurants and most other indoor areas.

Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people are still required to wear masks. The city gave establishments three options for enforcing that rule:

  • informing all patrons or attendees of the vaccination requirements and allowing them to unmask if they self-attest they’re fully vaccinated
  • verifying vaccination status and requiring anyone who doesn’t provide proof to wear a mask
  • requiring all patrons to wear masks indoors

These rules are slightly looser than the rest of Los Angeles County, where health officials require verification from vaccinated people and negative tests from unvaccinated people. They provided two pathways that would allow patrons and workers to unmask at indoor establishments, businesses and venues:

  • If all customers (5 and older) are verifiably fully vaccinated, no one would be required to wear masks indoors.
  • 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.

There are also several places in Long Beach and LA County where everyone is still required to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status:

  • On public transit, including planes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxies and rideshares, as well as transit hubs
  • K-12 schools and at children centers
  • Emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers
  • Health care settings
  • State and local correctional facilities and detention centers
  • Homeless shelters
  • Long-term care and adult and senior care facilities

Health officials still recommend high-quality masks, such as surgical masks or KN95/N95 respirators, in crowded settings that may have poor ventilation or may otherwise be at high risk for transmission of COVID-19.

Why is this happening now?

Long Beach’s decision to ease its mask mandates this weekend marks a departure from the city’s previous plan, which was to hold off on any changes until two weeks after Long Beach met the Centers for Disease Control’s benchmarks for moderate coronavirus transmission.

The city is still far from that mark, which requires the seven-day cumulative case rate to fall under 50 cases per 100,000 residents. Right now, that number sits at 147.4, according to the city’s coronavirus dashboard.

Even though coronavirus transmission in Long Beach still remains high based on CDC standards, it has declined significantly since the height of the omicron surge, city officials said in a statement Thursday. They highlighted the city’s average daily case rate (which is different than the seven-day cumulative rate) of 9.4.

“This is much lower than the 474 cases per 100,000 people reported on January 10, 2022,” the statement said. “The risk of COVID-19 infection for those who are not or cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19 continues to remain high.”

In Long Beach, city officials say 68.1% of residents are fully vaccinated, 75.8% have received at least one shot and 31.8% have received a booster.

LA County’s decision to ease its mask mandate may have played a part in Long Beach’s new rules. The city’s announcement came hours after a similar move by the county. Long Beach has largely followed county health officials’ lead during the pandemic, even though Long Beach has its own health department, which allows it to craft its own regulations.

When will Long Beach schools drop their mask mandate? It’s too soon to say

Jeremiah Dobruck is managing editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter.