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Photograph: Courtesy Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock.com

Los Angeles County can’t lift its mask mandate for vaccinated Angelenos quite yet

Don’t ditch those masks yet.

Michael Juliano
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Michael Juliano
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The White House shared a post last Thursday in big, bold letters: “Fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks.” This came after the Centers for Disease Control released official guidance that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance—except on planes and public transit and “unless required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, including local business and workplace guidance.” And here in Los Angeles, that “unless” clause is going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting for the near future.

Los Angeles County hasn’t changed its mask mandate yet to reflect the new CDC guidance, nor can it for another month. And when it eventually does, it’s also not clear yet exactly where you’d still need to wear a face covering—so keep masking up for now. That all comes after a press conference last Thursday afternoon, in which L.A. County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer fielded a slew of questions about the fresh CDC guidelines—as well as some more recent remarks from the state.

mask guidance
Courtesy Public Health

Before L.A. can even think about relaxing its guidelines, California would have to do so first. And, according to Ferrer, that change hinges on Cal/OSHA revising its workplace guidelines, and that statewide labor safety board isn’t currently scheduled to meet again until later on in May—so “nothing will change before the 20th,” when the agency convenes.

On Monday, the state took a definitive stance on the changes: California won’t implement the new CDC guidelines until the statewide reopening target date of June 15. That should, the state says, give Californians more time for to get vaccinated ahead of the changes.

This aligns with a press conference last week, in which Governor Gavin Newsom hinted that—assuming hospitalizations continue to fall—the state’s outdoor mask mandate would be lifted by June 15. The state and L.A. County have already both relaxed its outdoor rules a bit for fully vaccinated Californians, who no longer need to mask up at small outdoor gatherings (or very small indoor ones). On the other hand, “For indoor activities, we will still have likely some mask guidelines and mandates,” Newsom said. “But we hope, sooner than later, that those will be lifted as well.”

So we have some idea of when the state and county mandates could change, but how about the particulars of where you will and won’t need to wear a mask? That’s even more unclear for now. 

Ferrer noted that the vaccines are highly protective, but that she still sees protecting workers as a top priority. “The risk for people who are fully vaccinated, when they’re in a room with one person who’s not fully vaccinated is really, really low,” she said. That’s an easy risk to calculate when you know everyone’s vaccination status, say in an office setting, but a considerably harder one when you don’t, like when Angelenos are going about their day-to-day businesses at a supermarket or restaurant. And that’s where, in Ferrer’s reading of the CDC guidelines, it’s really up to local authorities to decide how to proceed. “In no way were [the CDC] implying that state and local regulations, particularly those that protect workers, should be disregarded,” she said. 

The county will align with all Cal/OSHA rules, whenever they’re released, but Ferrer said that “it may not be possible to lift all of the restrictions everywhere where people are going.” Later on, in a press conference on Monday, she said that the county will align with the state’s dismissal of the mandate on June 15 “barring something fundamentally different happening here in L.A. County” (i.e. if there were a spike in cases in L.A. but not the rest of the state).

So for now, the point is: L.A. hasn’t made any changes yet, so you’ll need to continue to mask up in most scenarios and keep your distance.

This story was first published on May 13 and has been updated with the state’s latest plans.

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