Los Angeles County dropped a plan to impose a universal indoor mask mandate this week as COVID-19 infections and rates of hospitalizations have stabilized, a top health official said Thursday.
Health director Barbara Ferrer said two weeks ago that the nation's most populous county could again require face coverings if trends in hospital admissions continued under criteria set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Thursday, she said the county had dodged imposition of the broad mask rule. The county remains at the "high" CDC level of community transmission, but it could drop to "medium" in coming weeks.
Ferrer made the announcement during a briefing at which she displayed flat and declining data graphs. She said transmission had dropped steadily since July 23, "potentially signaling the beginning of a downward trend in cases." Hospitalizations are also down.
"We're on a decline right now, and it's hard for us to imagine reinstating universal indoor masking when we're on this significant of a decline," Ferrer said. But she added that health officials would reassess things should case rates and hospital admissions spike again.
While masks won't be required in most indoor spaces, Ferrer reminded residents that face coverings remain an effective tool to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
As it has for most of the pandemic, L.A. County will still require masks in some indoor spaces, including health care facilities, mass transit vehicles, airports, jails and homeless shelters.
The new mandate, which would have gone into effect Friday, would have expanded the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared offices, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, retail stores, restaurants and bars, theaters and schools.
Nationwide, the latest COVID-19 surge is driven by the highly transmissible BA.5 variant, which now accounts for a majority of cases. It has shown a remarkable ability to get around the protection offered by vaccination.