Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

COVID-19 Update: LA County Sets Mask Rule for Public Transit and Transit Hubs

As of yesterday, passengers are once again required to mask up on all Metro buses, as well as all other forms of public transportation in LA County.


On Monday of this week, Florida judge Kathryn Mizelle ruled that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control does not have authority to create nationwide mask mandates for public transit, and voided a rule that’s been in place for buses, trains, planes, and ride-share car services for most of the pandemic.  And not surprisingly, by Tuesday, most airlines and other transportation providers had relaxed the rule on their conveyances, and in places like airports and train stations.

But while the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday filed a formal appeal of Mizelle’s ruling, local health officials across the country began taking matters into their own hands, and on Thursday, April 21, Los Angeles County (along with several other state and local health agencies in the U.S.) declared its own new rule reinstating masking policies for public transit.



“We obviously still have a very dangerous virus that can really wreak havoc, and we’ve lived through more than two years of that,” said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, announcing the new policy during her weekly address on Thursday.  Ferrer said that buses, trains, and planes, along with places like train stations and airports, have long been identified as places of high risk for transmission of COVID-19, because they bring together so many people from different places, often in crowded conditions, and often with poor ventilation.   Also, Ferrer pointed out that the elimination of the national rule was based on a legal technicality, and not on advice from either the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, or the World Health Organization, which continue to urge masking on public transit.  “They are the experts…and that resonates with us,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said the local transit-related mask rule is also especially important in LA County right now, because COVID-19 cases have been increasing here again for several weeks now.  “Right now we have a lot of transmission here in LA County,” Ferrer said.  And while BA.2 may be responsible for less significant illness than other previous strains of the virus, she said, it can still be very serious for some people.  Also, with higher levels of transmission there’s a greater chance of new variants developing, and some of those could be even more dangerous.

Ferrer said the rule will be reassessed in 30 days, but will likely remain in effect until transmission rates drop down to “moderate” levels again, or when the CDC recommends that it’s OK to drop mask rules for public transit.  And she expressed optimism that the national transit mask policy might be reinstated as well. “There have been other cases in the last two years about the CDC’s authority,” Ferrer said, “and it has been upheld every time that they have that authority, and we’re grateful that they have the authority to protect all of us.”

Meanwhile, in addition to announcing the new transit rule on Thursday, Ferrer also provided her usual updates on local COVID-19 status, noting that the average number of new daily cases over the past week was 2,123, which was up from 1,261 just a week earlier.  Case rates and test positivity also rose, though hospitalizations dropped slightly and daily deaths remained steady.



Ferrer also pointed out that while overall case levels are still much lower than during our winter surge, they have been increasing steadily again since the last week in March, and are currently twice what the weekly average was on March 24.



At the same time, however, Ferrer reported the good news that our community levels (which indicate stress levels on our health care system) remained low this week.



And among the early alert signals tracked by LA County, the only one at a “high” level of concern this week is the percentage of cases identified as a new variant of concern was the percent of samples sequenced in LA County are now the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron strain of the virus.



Ferrer also noted, however, that while LA County is reporting that 84% of its cases are now the BA.2 subvariant, those numbers are actually a couple of weeks old, and recent numbers are likely much higher, as they are across the US, where the CDC reports that 93% of all cases are now BA.2 nationwide.  Ferrer said the CDC and the World Health Organization are also tracking several new versions of the BA.2 subvariant, but there is no word yet about whether or not those versions are more transmissible or cause more severe illness than the current BA.2.



Based on the recent increases, Ferrer advised people to continue to wear masks in crowded spaces and most indoor public places (including businesses, restaurants and schools). She also advised continued masking for those who have specific COVID-19 risk factors, or who live with someone with elevated risk…and reminded people that masks are still legally required in high risk places such as skilled nursing and senior living facilities, health care settings and more.



Finally, since recent holidays and school spring breaks (not to mention some prominent recent music festivals) have meant more large gatherings for many people, Ferrer reminded residents to get tested for COVID-19 before they travel, after they travel, and especially if they experience any COVID-19 symptoms.  And testing is also still a good idea, if not required, she said, at many schools, workplaces, and other specific locations.




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Elizabeth Fuller
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 has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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