LOS ANGELES (CNS) - While the bulk of COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted on June 15, Los Angeles County's public health director warned that rules requiring masking and physical distancing will remain in place in some settings — most notably in schools, on public transit and in health-care facilities.
"There are a few sectors where masking and distancing protections will be retained given the high risk of either unknown vaccination status, large number of people who are not vaccinated or the fact that they are, by their very nature, high-risk settings," Barbara Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors.
"These sites include schools, child-care facilities, camps, health-care facilities, high-risk congregate settings, indoor 'mega events' and public transit," she said. "For all other sectors, public health will be retiring our protocols and issuing instead best-practice guidance."
She noted that state health officials have not yet released their rules California as a whole will be following in terms of mask-wearing beginning June 15. But the state has indicated it will follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in general allows vaccinated people to shed their masks in most settings, but requires those who are not vaccinated to continue wearing them.
Additional rules are also expected in worksites, pending a final decision on rules that were adopted last week by the board of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal-OSHA. In general, those rules will require all workers in indoor settings to continue wearing masks regardless of vaccination status, unless one person is working alone in a room or if all people in a room are fully vaccinated and not showing any symptoms of COVID-19. Physical distancing rules can be scrapped indoors and outdoors if employers make N-95 respirator masks available to non-vaccinated workers.
Cal-OSHA's proposed rules also won't require masks for workers in outdoor settings, except at outdoor "mega events" with 10,000 or more people. At those events, workers would have to wear face masks regardless of their vaccination status.
Ferrer presented the Board of Supervisors with COVID-19 statistics from five states that eased their mask-wearing rules when the CDC announced its new guidance last month. All five of those states — Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, New York and Washington — have vaccination rates above 57%, roughly the same as Los Angeles County, and all have continued to see declining case rates, Ferrer said.
"This is promising news, and we're hopeful that with our continued effort to vaccinate L.A. County residents, we'll also be able to maintain our low case rate once we move into a full reopening,' she said.
The county's vaccination efforts are shifting more toward mobile and community sites, rather than large-scale vaccine locations. The county will have 237 mobile vaccination teams fanned across the area this week, the most in a single week to date.
According to statistics released Monday, 65% of the county's population age 16 and over have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 54% — or roughly 4.5 million people — are fully vaccinated. But lagging rates among young Black and Latino residents continue to vex the effort, and Ferrer said efforts in the coming weeks will focus on ensuring easy access to vaccines and answering questions for people who remain uncertain about getting vaccinated.
"As we have witnessed before, Black and Brown residents, as our essential workers, bore the brunt of this pandemic, especially during our surge," Ferrer said. "If we are not able to afford them more protection by the vaccines, with the lifting of the public health safety measures, they again will have the highest risk of getting infected, being hospitalized and dying from this virus."
The county on Monday began phasing out its large-scale vaccination sites. The large site at Cal State Northridge closed at the end of the day, with operations shifting to the Balboa Sports Complex in Encino.
The other large-scale sites run by the county — at the Forum in Inglewood, the Pomona Fairplex and the county Office of Education in Downey — will close at the end of the day Sunday. Beginning next Tuesday, smaller sites will be opened at:
- Ted Watkins Memorial Park, 1335 E. 103rd St., Los Angeles;
- Commerce Senior Citizens Center, 2555 Commerce Way; and
- Norwalk Arts & Sports Complex, 13000 Clarkdale Ave.
Those three sites will operate from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Ferrer reported another 13 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, lifting the county's overall death toll to 24,404.
Another 186 new cases were also confirmed, raising the cumulative number from throughout the pandemic to 1,245,412.
According to state figures, there were 243 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the county as of Tuesday, up from 232 on Monday, with 40 people in intensive care, up from 37 a day earlier.
Until this Thursday, anyone who gets a first-dose vaccine at a county-or city-run vaccination site, or at a St. John's Well Child and Family Center site, will be entered for a chance to win season tickets to the Dodgers or Los Angeles Football Club. The contest is open to anyone receiving a first dose, or people receiving a second dose who bring another person with them to be vaccinated.
The state of California, meanwhile, is offering financial motivation to encourage people to get vaccinated. Last Friday, the state held the first of two planned drawings, awarding $50,000 in cash to 15 people who have been vaccinated. A second drawing will be held this Friday, to pick another 15 winners.
On June 15, the date the state is scheduled to lift the majority of its COVID-19 restrictions, the state will draw the names of 10 vaccinated residents, each of whom will receive $1.5 million.