UPDATE: California announced on Wednesday that it’s extending its indoor mask mandate until February 15. The statewide mandate was initially set to expire after January 15.
In addition, the L.A. County Department of Public Health announced that starting January 17, employers will need to provide upgraded masks (like well-fitted surgical ones or N95 or KN95 masks) to employees who work in close contact with others.
Our original story from December 13, 2021 appears below.
We’ll get this out of the way up top: No, California isn’t imposing another stay-at-home order for the holidays. But the state is rolling out some new public health guidelines, including a couple that will impact already-strict Los Angeles.
Due to the uncertainty posed by the Omicron variant and a fear that hospitals could quickly become overwhelmed, California will implement a statewide indoor mask mandate for one month, starting December 15, as well as some tighter recommendations around testing.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced the changes in a press conference on Monday, citing a 47% increase in case rates of Covid-19 across the state (though he also noted that L.A. specifically has fared relatively better). “As we head into the holidays, where people are mixing with others not normally around… wearing a mask is going to be one of the most important things to get us through this uncertainty,” he said.
The state will make three major changes to its public health guidelines:
- From December 15 through January 15, masks will be required in indoor public settings statewide regardless of vaccination status.
- For indoor events with 1,000 people or more or outdoor ones with 10,000 people or more, if you opt to show proof of a negative test result instead of your vaccination status, tests must be taken within one day if it’s an antigen test (these include both rapid and at-home tests) or two days for a PCR test. (The rule had previously been three days.)
- It’s recommended (but not required) that travelers who return to or visit California get tested within three to five days of their arrival.
About half of the state, including L.A. County, is already subject to an indoor mask mandate. Some of L.A.’s neighbors—including Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties—did not have such mandates in place and will now be required to do so.
Here’s how the statewide changes impact L.A.:
- Since L.A. County already has an indoor mask mandate, nothing really changes as far as face coverings. That includes the state’s January 15 expiration date; L.A. County already has its own required metrics for lifting its mandate that are likely to extend beyond then.
- The narrower testing window for mega-events will apply to L.A. County. But it’s worth noting that the City of Los Angeles as well as West Hollywood both have stricter mandates that only allow proof of vaccination for indoor events—therefore the testing alternatives are moot in those cases.
- The test-after-travel recommendation will indeed apply in L.A.
If you’re wondering whether California’s mask mandate foreshadows a return to statewide business sector closures and capacity limitations, Ghaly had a very clear answer: “Absolutely not.”
Ghaly also clarified that these new rules only apply to public settings and not within your own home. He did, however, offer some advice for staying safe over the holidays: get vaccinated, get boosted, get tested before you gather with people outside of your usual circle, and when gathering with others try to move things outside, if possible, or at the very least make sure you’ve improved the ventilation indoors.
As far as the timing of the mandate, Ghaly explained that even though case rates are lower than they were this time last year, hospitalizations are already at a higher baseline and the rate of cases rising has been very rapid. There’s typically at least a 10-day lag between cases and hospitalizations, but with both the Delta and now Omicron variants in the mix—which the state says have been observed to make people sicker sooner—the impact on hospitals might come quicker than last winter.