California will lift mask mandate as omicron cases fall
Speaker 1: (00:01)
By this time, next week, vaccinated San Diegos will not have to wear masks inside. Most public places, county health officials say they will follow state guidelines to lift the mask requirement. After February 15th, a sharp decrease in coronavirus cases from the peak of the Omicron surge is the reason for easing ask mandate. But one restriction that is not changing yet is the requirement for kids to wear masks in school, state and county officials say they are working on that. Joining me as K P S health reporter, Matt Huffman. Hi Matt. Hey Maureen. Now how sharply have coronavirus cases dropped to cause health officials to lift the mask mandate it?
Speaker 2: (00:42)
Well, what we're hearing from state officials, the state health department actually is that there's been a 65% decrease, uh, in cases since the peak of the Omicron surge. And that was just, we saw that a few weeks ago too. Also, Maureen, the state is saying that, you know, hospitalizations, we know that there is definitely a lag factor from when cases come to when those hospitalizations come and they say that those are star to plateau across the state
Speaker 1: (01:05)
On vaccinated. People will still be required to wear masks, though. That must be hard to enforce.
Speaker 2: (01:10)
That's gonna be, uh, very challenging for businesses to enforce, keep in mind. And we've been here before too, you know, this other one was implemented in December. This mask mandate the universal one, uh, when we saw cases sharply increasing, we had it there or before, and yeah, we saw a lot of local businesses saying, Hey, I don't want to be the mask police. You know, uh, the state did put out some guidance saying for businesses saying, you know, that they can choose to ask people, they can do a vaccine, you know, verification system say, Hey, are you vaccinated? Uh, if not, you have to wear a mask. They can implement their own mask mandates. Um, but it's gonna be tough for businesses to sort of choose, you know, uh, where they stand on this. What
Speaker 1: (01:46)
Are the exceptions? Where will vaccinated people still be required to wear masks pretty
Speaker 2: (01:52)
Much any public place that requires some sort of like transit. So we're talking about like airports, you know, every time you go on the airplane, you have to wear not only when you're like getting your bag checking in when you're actually on the plane, public transit. So that includes things like if you're taking any kind of boating, public transit, or even like a trolley, something like that, or one of those sprinter trains, um, also includes things like hospitals, long term care facilities, and some of that's due to federal regulations as well, too. So, uh, there is still universal masking required in some places, but obviously, uh, masks can come off for vaccinated people in a lot of indoor places. Now,
Speaker 1: (02:24)
Now Los Angeles county is not lifting its mask mandate next week. Is that
Speaker 2: (02:28)
Right? That is right. Yeah. Los Angeles county they've sort of had this position for a while that they say that they are not gonna be lifting their mask mandate. Um, and we know that the, you know, when you look at the triggers and stuff like that, we're still in the red, you know, San Diego county, even, uh, showing that there's still a high transmission, even cases have gone down likely the same up there in Los Angeles county. Uh, but we have heard from our health department that they will be following the state guidance that they will not be getting ahead of it, so to speak, or they will not be continuing with the indoor mask mandate.
Speaker 1: (02:57)
I'm curious about what the mask requirements are for big events, like the super bowl this Sunday.
Speaker 2: (03:03)
Yeah. You know, there was a lot of attention paid to the last game that was there when the governor, uh, was photographed with that his mask a couple times, but SoFi stadium, uh, they have some of their own requirements. That's where that game's gonna be played, uh, up there in Los Angeles. They require, uh, either full proof of vaccination or in negative or recent negative COVID 19 test. Uh, now in addition to that, uh, they say that masks are required at all times, uh, during the game. And they say obviously that that's because, uh, of a Los Angeles county public health order, um, and that's, unless you're actively eating or drinking,
Speaker 1: (03:34)
Let's talk about masks for kids in K through 12 schools. What are county officials saying about that?
Speaker 2: (03:41)
Yeah, so that mandate is still in place. You know, that still is there, along with the public transit hospitals, all that kids still have to wear masks in schools. And we know that schools have been a driver of infection, you know, not just for kids in general, but for kids taking it back home. And then we just heard here in San Diego county, uh, the chairman of the county supervisors, they eighth and Fletcher, uh, he introduced a motion to have county, uh, staff work with the state to try to, uh, change these mask rules to slowly phase them out. And he basically says, uh, you know, look, we've had a very high uptick in terms of at least first doses here in San Diego, more than 90% of residents that are ages five. And over now we know that some of that's been lagging for some of the younger kids. He says, you know, now is the time that passed on a unanimous motion for the board. Um, and we have heard from the state that they say, you know, while they are implementing these changes in terms of the 15th that they recognize, and they are working on making changes inside of schools. So I would say within the next couple weeks, there could be some news in terms of masking inside of schools
Speaker 1: (04:37)
After California announced an end to the mask mass, the CDC director in Washington says now is not the time to lift the mask mandate. Here's what CDC director, Dr. Rochelle, Wilinski had to say about it yesterday. Right
Speaker 3: (04:52)
Now our CDC guidance has not changed. Um, we have and continue to recommend, um, masking in areas of high and substantial transmission that is essential the everywhere in the country, in public indoor settings, we continue to recommend universal masking in our schools.
Speaker 1: (05:07)
Why does the CDC director say states should wait?
Speaker 2: (05:11)
Well, Maureen, you know, she did an interview with rooters where she talked about hospital capacity and she points to that as one of the most important metrics that we're watching here. And we know in San Diego county, and California's some of those hospital rates have been, have been going down for COVID for sure. Uh, but she says, you know, nationwide that a majority of hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID cases right now, still. So she's pointing to that saying, look, you know, in, in majority of parts of the country, hospitals are being overwhelmed and we need to slow the surge. And we know that masks work, you know, there was that new CDC study that came out. So they're saying do everything you can still, while we're still at high levels of transmission, keep in mind while the mask mandate is going away here in San Diego, we're still hitting the red levels for transmission. So it's still high. So she's saying we need to do everything we can to slow that transmission. And she points that in school specifically saying that they're recommending that schools continue, uh, universal masking to
Speaker 1: (06:01)
Counter that what are California health officials pointing to about why this is a good time to lift the mask mandate?
Speaker 2: (06:07)
They're saying that the situation has improved and sort of, uh, going in line with what they've been doing the whole entire time is they're following the science. Following the data case rates are dropping certain parts of the state and majority of parts of the state that they say, um, and they say now is the time. And it'll be interesting to see if there's any pushback or, or if there's any resistance in terms of changing the masking inside of schools. You know, we know we hear from a, you know, maybe a vocal minority of parents or maybe a vocal majority of parents, uh, that they want to have choice. Uh, but don't be surprised too. Uh, when you see these mask go away on the 15th, Maureen, that a lot of people are probably still gonna wanna wear their masks, or you'll probably still see a lot of people wearing their masks, especially with transmission, uh, still being in those red levels.
Speaker 1: (06:47)
I've been speaking with K PS health reporter, Matt Hoffman, Matt. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (06:51)
California will end its indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people next week but masks still are the rule for schoolchildren, state health officials announced Monday amid rapidly falling coronavirus cases.
After Feb. 15, unvaccinated people still will be required to be masked indoors, and everyone — vaccinated or not — will have to wear masks in higher-risk areas like public transit and nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, officials said. Local governments can continue their own indoor masking requirements and last week Los Angeles County’s health officials said they intend to keep theirs in place beyond the state deadline.
State officials also announced that Indoor “mega events” with more than 1,000 people will have to require vaccinations or negative tests for those attending and those who are unvaccinated will be required to wear masks. For outdoor events with more than 10,000 people, there is no vaccination requirement but masks or negative tests are recommended.
Those thresholds increase from the current 500 attendees for indoor and 5,000 attendees for outdoor events. The increased threshold comes after Sunday's Super Bowl that will draw as many as 100,000 football fans to SoFi Stadium outside Los Angeles.
With coronavirus cases falling fast, California also is lifting a requirement that people produce a negative coronavirus test before visiting hospitals and nursing homes, effective immediately.
“Omicron has loosened its hold on California, vaccines for children under 5 are around the corner, and access to COVID-19 treatments is improving,” said state Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón. “With things moving in the right direction, we are making responsible modifications to COVID-19 prevention measures, while also continuing to develop a longer-term action plan for the state.”
California has seen a 65% drop in case rates since the peak during the wintertime omicron surge.
Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration brought back the masking mandate in mid-December as omicron gained momentum and last month extended the requirement through Feb. 15. California passed 80,000 pandemic deaths and 8 million confirmed positive cases last week but new cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions all continued falling Monday and are projected to keep declining at a rapid clip.
Before resuming the masking requirement in December, California had lifted the requirement for people who were vaccinated as of June 15, a date that Newsom had described then as the state’s grand reopening. However, many counties soon reinstituted local mask orders as the summer delta surge took hold.
Newsom, a Democrat, has come under pressure from Republicans and other critics to ease the mandates. He recently has said the state is preparing for the day when the coronavirus can be considered endemic, with rules that accept that it is here to stay but can be managed with caution.
Health officials said Monday that more changes to the state’s policies will be released in the coming week.
The developments in California come as New Jersey and Delaware announced plans Monday to lift the statewide COVID-19 mask requirement in schools next month. They are among a dozen states with mask mandates in schools.
California health officials said Monday that they are “continuing to work with education, public health and community leaders to update masking requirements at schools to adapt to changing conditions and ensure the safety of kids, teachers, and staff.”
Last week, Los Angeles County public health director Barbara Ferrer said the winter surge will be considered over in the nation's most populous county when hospitalizations fall below 2,500 for seven days in a row. The county will then end its mask requirement for large outdoor events such as concerts and sporting events and for outdoor spaces at schools and child-care facilities.
It plans to keep indoor mask requirements in place until the county has two straight weeks at or below a “moderate” rate of 50 new cases per 100,000 people and there aren’t any reports of a new, troubling variant circulating, Ferrer said. The current rate is 117 cases per 100,000 people.
Health officials continue emphasizing that those most at risk for the virus are the unvaccinated, and that booster shots in particular provide significant protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.