COVID-19 Update: LAUSD Drops Outdoor Masks; LA County Looks Ahead to Next Milestone


With the Omicron surge quickly fading into the rear-view mirror (at least for now), and major indicators such as new cases, hospitalizations, and test positivity continuing their definite downward trends, the LA Unified School District announced yesterday that masks will now be optional in outdoor spaces on its campuses as of Tuesday, February 22.  This aligns the District with LA County’s removal of outdoor masking requirements earlier this week.  But both LAUSD and LA County will continue to require indoor masks at schools and other public places until we hit even lower targets for COVID-19 transmission.

“In alignment with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and with guidance from our medical director and health partners, outdoor masking will be optional for all individuals in Los Angeles Unified schools effective February 22, 2022,” LAUSD announced yesterday.  In addition, said the statement, all individuals participating in LAUSD sports events on Monday, February 21 (the President’s Day holiday, when school itself is not in session) may also forego masks outdoors on LAUSD campuses.

This puts the District in alignment with Los Angeles County, which relaxed its outdoor mask rules on Wednesday, when the county officially hit its target of fewer than 2,500 hospitalizations for seven days in a row.  According to LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in her weekly press briefing on Thursday, hitting this threshold indicates both an official end to the winter COVID-19 surge, and it means hospitals are no longer over-burdened with COVID-19 cases and can return to more normal levels of service.

“We’ve reached that milestone and we’re reaching the end of our devastating winter surge,” Ferrer said on Thursday. And that means, she said, that we’ve reduced the strains the surge put on our health care system, which further means that we can now consider “sensible changes to our COVID-19 mitigation strategies.”

The first of these changes was the removal of the county’s outdoor masking rules for mega events involving more than 10,000 people, and the removal of outdoor mask requirements at childcare centers and Pre-K-12th grade schools.  So LAUSD’s announcement yesterday takes advantage of the county’s adjustment.


What’s Next



As she had earlier this week, Ferrer cautioned that although we are now officially past our winter surge, the pandemic does continue, and although case numbers, hospitalizations and test positivity are still falling reliably, we do still have officially “high” rates of transmission as defined by the CDC…and we will not be able to ease local indoor mask requirements in schools, workplaces and other public indoor spaces until we reach officially “moderate” transmission levels — a 7-day average of 730 new cases per day in LA County.   Currently, Ferrer reported, we’re still seeing more than 3,000 new cases per day, so we’re not there yet.  But if the current trends continue, she said, she expects that we will reach the new threshold, and be able to remove many indoor mask requirements, by March 11-12.  “I do think this is feasible,” she said.



To make sure we hit this next big milestone as soon as possible, Ferrer said we need to continue our current strategies, including masking in crowded places, testing frequently, and – most important – getting as many people as possible fully vaccinated and boosted, which has proven to be the best protection against serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths.  Currently, Ferrer said, 70% of LA County residents are now fully vaccinated, but only 34% have received a booster dose of a vaccine, and only 26% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated – both of which represent big gaps in vaccine coverage, and the biggest opportunities to improve our community protection. “None of us ever wants to go back to closed schools and a closed economy,” Ferrer said, “and vaccinations offer one of our best tools at this point.”



While Ferrer has faced some criticism recently – from both members of the public and a couple of LA County Supervisors – for continuing to adhere to CDC guidelines on transmission rates and mask recommendations instead of joining other cities and states that have already eliminated their indoor mask rules, Ferrer said Thursday that while she believes in taking appropriate cautions, she, too, hopes we can get to that next milestone, as safely as possible, very soon.

“I’m part of the population that wants to be well prepared,” Ferrer said.  “I don’t see myself in a different place here.  I’m also part of the optimistic group that would like to think maybe we’re coming to the end of the pandemic.  But I’m also realistic enough to know that we’ve had variability based on seasonality, and we have this thread of a mutating virus, which can also lead to other variants.  So what I think is most sensible…is being well prepared for an future challenges…not leaving anything to chance about preparedness.”

Finally, however, Ferrer also noted that even the CDC is constantly reevaluating its safety thresholds, and may soon adjust its transmission and masking guidelines as well, based on evolving information.  And if that happens, she said, LA County will likely continue to follow any revised CDC guidelines.


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About Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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