Los Angeles County will adhere to California guidelines and wait until June 15 to lift the requirement for face coverings in indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, officials said.
The June date is when state officials are expected to lift most virus-related restrictions across California if the current positive trends continue.
County officials, who made their announcement on Monday, also encouraged people to continue to practice social distancing.
Currently, face coverings are not required outdoors except at crowded events, and — for unvaccinated people — when physical distancing cannot be maintained. In indoor settings outside the home including public transportation and schools, face coverings continue to be required regardless of vaccination status.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control revised its guidance last week, saying fully vaccinated people can largely stop wearing a mask in most indoor and outdoor situations. That guidance does not automatically apply to individual states and local jurisdictions, however.
Some national supermarket chains including Trader Joe’s, Costco and Walmart have dropped the mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers, though store officials said they will not be asking for proof of vaccination.
L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the chains should have only lifted the requirements for those states where the mask mandate has been lifted, and not in California.
“I’m frankly surprised at Trader Joe’s for going against what their national office is saying,” Ferrer said. ” … This is going to be pretty easy for businesses and customers, residents and visitors to understand, because there’s one standard for the whole state, and it requires that we continue to wear our masks until June 15.”
She added that health department officials would be “out and about” this week to communicate clearly that the mask requirement was still in effect.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County reported 161 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths Monday, with those relatively low numbers reflecting reporting delays over the weekend.
According to state figures, there were 338 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Monday, up from 322 the day before. Of those patients, 69 were in intensive care, up from 68.
Monday’s figures brought the county’s totals to 1,237,561 cases and 24,097 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
More than 6,643,000 test results have been reported, with 17% of people testing positive. The daily positivity rate over a seven-day average remained 0.4% as of Monday, the department said.
Ferrer said Los Angeles County has seen positive trends across the board, with outbreaks in work settings dropping from about 200 per week during the height of the pandemic to about 24 a week now, an 88% decrease.
More than 44% of county residents are now fully vaccinated, Ferrer said, with more than 9 million total doses delivered. She added that the county was making good progress on vaccinating young people now that residents age 12 and over are eligible for the shots, with no appointments necessary at most sites.
As of late Friday, 15,727 teens aged 12-15 were vaccinated, 3% of county residents in that age group. And 95,396 teens aged 16 and 17 have received at least one dose of vaccine — or 38% of that age group.
Ferrer also touted the county’s community initiatives to get teenagers vaccinated. Those include pop-up clinics at 200 Los Angeles Unified School District sites. Of existing school-based clinics, 82% are in so-called “low-resource” ZIP codes, officials said.
Some 755 sites are offering vaccinations across the county, Ferrer said. She said there was no “magic number” of vaccine doses administered to ensure that the county would be able to lift the restrictions on June 15, but stressed that the more people who get vaccinated between now and then, the safer a full reopening of the state would be.
“These cases I announce every say, I would say well over 95% of them are occurring among people that are not fully vaccinated. Pretty much everyone in the hospital (with COVID-19) is not fully vaccinated and just about everyone who’s passing away right now is not fully vaccinated,” she said.
Officials also addressed concerns about possible long-term side effects of the vaccines, with Ferrer stressing that the United States has “one of the most advanced vaccine safety programs anywhere in the world” that is tracking millions of people every day regarding any side effects they may be experiencing.
She added that the way the vaccines are created would be related to any adverse effect.
“That’s how we know that it’s so unlikely months out from now that we would see some unintended long-term effect — particularly when we’ve got this — I call it the red-flag system that we used to monitor vaccine safety in this country.”
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, also assured residents that the shots were safe.
“The vaccines really have very few ingredients in them,” she said. “The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine, they’re an MRNA vaccine. … It’s not a live virus. There are no live virus particles or portions that are injected into an individual. … It is a small little piece of RNA which in some ways tricks the body into making this protein that is on the virus, so the body can learn how to fight this new virus.
“This happens all the time. You get exposed to a new food, you get exposed to something new in the air … and your body learns from it, and your body creates antibodies and creates mechanisms through its immune system to be able to fight it off. And this is just a way of priming the immune system to be able to create the antibodies that are needed to fight the virus.
“… There is no change to an individual’s genetic composition, to your own DNA,” Ghaly added. “That RNA is used very briefly and then it’s discarded by the body. And the other components of the vaccine are really just there to preserve the vaccine until it’s injected. It includes some salts, some sugars, and some lipids or fats that are needed to stabilize the vaccine until it’s injected into an individual. And those are common types of things that are included in many different kinds of medicines that are given to people for decades.
“… Individuals who have allergies to the specific components shouldn’t receive the vaccine, but other than that pretty much everyone should receive the vaccine and it’s safe to do so, and there’s really no reason to believe that there would be any long-lasting effect from the vaccine itself,” Ghaly said.