“It seems like when we have something high-profile, like the Super Bowl or the Emmys, the rules just don’t seem to matter any more,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn at a board meeting on Tuesday.
The context: While the state of California will lift its Covid indoor mask-wearing requirement for vaccinated people tomorrow, Los Angeles County will continue enforcing its own indoor face-covering rule, despite growing dissent among L.A.’s powerful Board of Supervisors.
Last week, Supervisor Kathryn Barger called on the county to align with the state, formally requesting that county public health officials lift its indoor mask mandate before the Super Bowl. She said the rule creates too much confusion and frustration among residents to have stricter local rules than the state’s. The County Public Health Department indicated last week that it could be late April before the indoor mask mandate was lifted.
On Tuesday, Supervisor Hahn joined Barger in her call to end the mandate now — pointing to rampant violations of the county’s outdoor mask-wearing rule during Sunday’s Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium.
“Businesses, schools and churches were fined or shut down for far less,” Hahn said during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Just finished being briefed on @CountyofLA post-surge #COVID19 plans during @LACountyBOS meeting. I continue to call on our Board to align with the state. Ending indoor masking mandates may be around the corner but isn’t happening fast enough.
— Supervisor Kathryn Barger (@kathrynbarger) February 15, 2022
By a cursory Deadline count based on NBC’s broadcast, only about 15% of attendees at the Super Bowl were wearing masks, even though every person entering the stadium was handed one and heath officials had repeatedly said they would be required. Among those seen barefaced was L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was also seen without his mask at the NFC Championship Game.
“I believe that our health orders are only effective if people believe in them, if they think they are fair and if they follow them,” she said. “And keeping mandates in place that aren’t followed just erodes the credibility the public has in us as policy makers to make good sound decisions. And I think the longer we drag our feet on lifting the indoor mask mandate, the more out of step we get from the state and more trust that we’re losing from the public.”
The other three members of the Board of Supervisors — Holly Mitchell, Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl — so far still support leaving the county’s indoor mask mandate in place until criteria outlined by Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer are met. Ferrer indicated today that the sanction may be lifted sooner than expected, as she eliminated one requirement that could have had the county waiting until late April to doff its masks.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that the indoor mask mandate in most other locations would be lifted for vaccinated people as of Wednesday morning, noting a 65% drop in the virus infection rate since the peak of the winter surge caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, as well as a stabilization in hospitalization numbers.
But he stressed that “unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks indoors.” It is unclear how that requirement will be enforced.
Barger on Tuesday recognized that there is an end in sight to the mask mandate, but she said the county should move faster, align with the state and lift the requirement right away.
Pressed on why enforcement was so lax a the Super Bowl — which she saw first hand as she attended the event — Ferrer indicated that there were still other “layers of protection” in place, such as vaccination. Every attendee at SoFi was required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test.
That lead Barger and Hahn to press her on why that sort of leniency wasn’t afforded other venues and/or made an official policy. Ferrer, seemingly on her back foot a bit in response to the criticism, said the Public Health Department could be prepared as early as next week to bring a recommendation forward for such an easing of the rule in select locations.
Los Angeles County’s requirement that people wear masks at outdoor mega-events and outdoors at schools and childcare centers will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. That decision was made when the county met the previously announced guideline of virus-related hospitalizations remaining below 2,500 for seven straight days. Tuesday marked the sixth straight day of meeting that requirement, with hospitalizations at 1,995, according to state figures.
City News Service, contributed to this report.
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