Despite California’s decision to ease its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people next week, Long Beach is keeping its own in place, at least for the time being.

On Tuesday night, city health officials said they’ll keep requiring universal masking in all indoor public settings until one of the two following criteria is met:

  • COVID-19 transmission falls into the CDC’s “moderate” category and remains there for two weeks. Moderate transmission means a seven-day average of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents and a testing positivity rate of less than 8%.
  • The vaccine is available for children under 5 for at least eight weeks.

So, how quickly could either of those two happen?

When will vaccines be available for kids under 5?

Right now, there are no COVID-19 vaccines authorized for kids 0 to 4. But that could change soon.

Earlier this month, Pfizer submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration from the company’s clinical trial of the vaccine on children under 5. If that data passes muster, Pfizer shots for the age group could be available to the public in a matter of weeks, according to NPR.

Of course, by Long Beach’s benchmark, the universal mask mandate would still remain in place for eight weeks after that.

How far away are we from “moderate” transmission?

Right now, Long Beach is still in the CDC’s “high transmission” tier. As of Tuesday night, the seven-day cumulative case rate was 296 per 100,000 residents and 14.9% of COVID tests were coming back positive, according to health officials.

That’s still quite a ways away from the seven-day cumulative rate of 50 cases per 100,000 residents and positivity rate of less than 8% the city would have to maintain for two weeks to qualify for the moderate tier.

The good news is the number of cases has been dropping quickly since the omicron wave peaked on Jan. 13 with 3,070 new cases that day alone.

A week ago, the seven-day cumulative case rate was 667 per 100,000 residents, and the positivity rate was 21.4%. A week before that, it was 1,520 and 25.4%.

If the rate continues to drop that precipitously, Long Beach will eventually hit the rate of 50 per 100,000 required for moderate transmission, but that level would have to stay steady—or continue dropping—for two weeks before city officials ease masking rules.

What happens if we reach those benchmarks?

If the above benchmarks are met, fully vaccinated people—and only fully vaccinated people—will be allowed to remove their masks in most indoor public settings—places like offices, restaurants and most public buildings.

In this file photo, Leighton Mayoca works on her schoolwork while in her fourth-grade class as students return for the first day of in-person school at Alvarado Elementary School in Signal Hill Monday, March 29, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

They’ll still be required to wear masks in the following places:

  • Indoors at K-12 schools and child care facilities
  • On public transit (including airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, buses, taxis and ride-shares) and in transportation hubs such as airports, bus terminals, marinas, train stations, seaports or other ports, or any other area that provides transportation
  • At emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers
  • In health care settings
  • At jails, detention centers and other correctional facilities
  • In homeless shelters
  • In long term–care settings including adult and senior-care homes

“Facial coverings will continue to be required for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses,” according to a statement from the city, “including but not limited to restaurants, retail establishments and family entertainment centers.”

A booster is not required to be considered fully vaccinated, according to a health spokeswoman Jennifer Rice Epstein, but there are major benefits to getting a booster and being fully up-to-date on the shots.

According to the city, people without up-to-date COVID vaccines have 6.9 times higher rates of hospitalization and 7.2 times higher death rates than people who are up to date.

When might the mask mandate disappear completely?

We don’t know yet.

City officials said they’d lift mask mandates even further when Long Beach hits the CDC’s “low transmission” category, meaning a cumulative seven-day average of 10 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate below 5%.

California will lift mask mandate next week, but when will Long Beach?

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