Long Beach last week instituted a new mask mandate that applies to everyone, whether you’re vaccinated or not. This time, though, it applies only indoors, and—as always—there’s a handful of exceptions and sometimes confusing details.
But what it mostly boils down to is this: If you’re inside, and it’s not at someone’s private residence, wear a mask.
The city’s new health order, which went into effect Saturday, has all the nitty-gritty details, but here’s the gist of what it says. Face coverings are required for everyone—vaccinated or not— in “all indoor public settings, venues, public gatherings, and businesses.”
That includes, but isn’t limited to:
- Restaurants, bars, pubs and breweries when not eating or drinking
- Family entertainment centers
- Gyms and fitness centers
- Meeting spaces
- State and local government offices
Even before Saturday’s order, masks were already required in the following areas:
- On public transit or public transit hubs like bus stations, airports and seaports
- Indoors at K-12 schools, child care and other youth settings
- Health care settings (including long-term-care facilities)
- State and local correctional facilities and detention centers
- Homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers.
Unlike previous health orders, this one doesn’t require any businesses to limit capacity, enforce social distancing or close down altogether.
“In looking at other options, universal indoor masking in public settings and businesses is the least disruptive and most effective measure to take while increasing vaccination rates;” the order says, “this is an important safety directive that can be implemented without impacting normal business capacity and operations.”
With all business and public settings now requiring masks indoors, the biggest caveat in the new health order is that people still don’t have to wear masks when they gather with people in their own homes. Although that could change.
“Gatherings at private residences are not subject to masking requirements at this time,” the order says.
The order also includes the standard carve-outs that have been included in basically every mask mandate. People exempt from wearing masks are:
- Kids under 2 years old: “Very young children must not wear a mask because of the risk of suffocation,” the order says.
- Anyone with a disability, medical condition or mental health condition that would cause them to be harmed by wearing a mask or who can’t remove a mask without someone else’s help.
- People who are hearing impaired or who need their mouths visible to communicating with people who are hearing impaired.
- People for whom wearing a mask would cause an unreasonable risk at their workplace.
When will the mask mandate end?
The health order doesn’t specify any expiration date for the new rules, but it does point to a few factors that will influence officials’ decision-making process.
The order says its purpose is to use the “least restrictive” measures possible to control COVID-19 in Long Beach.
And to judge what those measures should be, health officials will look at data like the local COVID case rate, hospitalizations, deaths, the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus, the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19, and the number of fully vaccinated people who still get sick from the disease.
For now, at least some of those indicators are headed in the wrong direction.
When Long Beach instituted its mask mandate on July 15, the case rate was 7.5 per 100,000, according to a statement from the city. Yesterday, Long Beach reported its case rate had almost doubled since then to 13.4 per 100,000.
Vaccination rates in the city have also slowed significantly, with only 479 first doses administered last week compared to 890 during the first week of June and 2,690 during the first week of May.
Overall, 57.9% of Long Beach residents are vaccinated with at least one shot, according to the city’s COVID-19 data dashboard. That amounts to about 71% of all adults in the city and 67.9% of everyone over 12, which is the current age-eligibility cutoff for the vaccine.
How will it be enforced?
As with all COVID-19 health orders, violating the new mask mandate can be a misdemeanor, but Long Beach has rarely pursued enforcement to that point.
The city has focused on enforcing the mask rules on businesses, not individuals.
Bars, restaurants, offices or other businesses that don’t comply with mask mandates or post the required signage may be subject to escalating fines and fees. In some cases, the city has even revoked health and business permits.
To be in compliance, businesses—or anyone else hosting members of the public indoors—must:
- Require all patrons to wear masks for all indoor settings, regardless of their vaccination status; and
- Post clearly visible and easy to read signage, with or without having an employee present, at all entry points for indoor and outdoor settings to communicate the masking requirements for patrons.