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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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LA lifts mask mandate for businesses checking vaccine status

The move comes amid widespread mask fatigue, but some epidemiologists worry things will be less safe for children and the immunocompromised.

(CN) — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Friday the city was lifting its mask mandate for businesses that require proof of vaccination to enter.

“This moment gives us a renewed sense of optimism about the direction of this pandemic,” Garcetti said in a written statement. “But we’re not out of the woods, and we know that as the pandemic evolves, our collective fate will increasingly depend on our individual choices and actions. Now is the time to strengthen our resolve to protect the health and safety of everyone around us.” 

The change is optional: businesses may still enforce their own mask mandates if they choose to.

The move essentially mimics the latest guidance from Los Angeles County, which took effect Friday morning. Under the new rules, customers with proof of full vaccination may enter indoor businesses without a face covering. Unvaccinated customers with proof of a negative Covid test must still wear a mask to enter.

With respect to employees, businesses in the county will now have two options. They can either check the vaccination status of all their employees or they can have their workers wear masks, and not ask for proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test.

Businesses in Los Angeles have been obligated, by law, to check customers' vaccination status since November. But enforcement has been all but nonexistent for many types of businesses, including supermarkets and restaurants.

Dr. Shira Shafir, an associate professor of epidemiology at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, said the decision to ease masking guidelines was a difficult one.

"We know people are tired of wearing masks," Shafir said. "We know the ability to take off masks is an incentive to get vaccinated. At the same time, there are a lot of children under the age of 5 who aren’t able to get vaccinated yet, and a lot of people that are immunocompromised."

The decision, she added, "does make it so that indoor spaces are no longer safe" for people in those two groups.

LA County's daily Covid infection rate has been on the decline for weeks, and is either at or nearing pre-omicron levels. The county still averages more than 50 deaths due to Covid per day, but that number is falling as well.

John Romley, senior fellow at USC’s Shcaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, said he thought it was a good time to lift the region's mask mandates.

"In my view the status quo is not sustainable," said Romley. "People want to get back to a somewhat normal life. And with all the tools we have at our disposal — vaccines, therapeutics — it just begins not to make sense to live like this. People have made a lot of sacrifices. People are just tired of it."

On Friday afternoon, shortly after the mayor's announcement, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on face coverings. According its website, the CDC still calls LA County's Covid level "high," and therefore recommends people wear masks when indoors.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District — the second largest school system in the country — announced that students and teachers will no longer have to wear masks when outside. They will still have to wear them when indoors.

California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to announce new mask rules for schools on Monday.

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