Welcome to “post-surge” LA County, where many mask claims overnight went from required to optional under county revised health executive order.
But if you were expecting a world where masks would instantly fall off… yes, not exactly.
The county’s residents and businesses undoubtedly woke up to a new era – now stuck in a community of “low” transmission below federal government benchmarks. But the revised health ordinance came with a loud warning: Masks remain “highly recommended.”
Accelerating change: Deep decline in recent weeks in new infections and COVID-related hospitalizations.
Pasadena and Long Beach, cities that run independent health departments, fell in line with the decision to also make masks optional this week.
On Friday, COVID-19 hospital admissions fell again in the county, down 35 to 817. ICU beds occupied by a person with COVID-19 increased by 4 to 141 according to the state dashboard.
Nevertheless, some companies and other places – such as universities – remain on guard after two years and almost 31,000 died of the disease. Schools, meanwhile, will follow their own schedule based on the state’s goal of making masks indoors on campus optional on March 12th.
Under the new health ordinance, many sites on Friday, March 4, did not appear to be in a hurry to drop their own claims, which the county order allows them to adjust based on their risk assessment. The customers also did not seem to be ready to take them off in droves.
With effect at midnight, mask wearing went from mandatory to “highly recommended” in most indoor spaces throughout the county. Masking is still required in higher risk environments, including health facilities, transit centers, airports, on board public transportation, in the penitentiary and at homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.
#masks carried by merchants and staff at #Burbank grocery store this morning. At a quick scan of the store, I counted 58 customers and employees. Three shoppers did not wear masks, the other 55 were. pic.twitter.com/aCynmzTdX8
– dean musgrove (@deanmusgrove) March 4, 2022
Granted, from community to community, one can find varying levels of willingness to go without face clothing, but from an early glance, masks were very much still on people’s minds – and faces.
A grocery story in Burbank showed an early morning count of 58 customers and employees. 55 were wearing face clothing. There were not three.
At the Dean Anthony Salon in Longmont’s Belmont Shore area, stylist Will Burkowski and client George Honeycutt reflected on a world where masks are not required.
“In the beginning, we hardly recognized each other because we met wearing masks,” Honeycutt said.
She asked Burkowski what was different about him, and he said, “I think you’re just seeing my smile for the first time.”
Brandie Macias, who lives on Long Beach, forgot his mask in his car but realized it was no longer required, so decided to shop mask-free.
“I’m on the fence because the variant can change,” she said. “I like freedom, but I still want to be careful.”
She added that she has an immunocompromised child at home, so she feels guilty for not masking and will likely continue to mask in crowded places.
Torrance resident Dennis Kromer wore his mask while shopping in a Torrance Vons Friday morning, but he said “I’m ready to go.”
“I wear them to be safe and keep everyone else safe,” Kromer said.
Ginny Hessenauer, a Long Beach resident, said Friday morning she will wear her mask until “the death rate and the case drop a bit.”
“I have two guys at home under 15 and they’ve both been shot, but I just want to make sure everything’s cool for them,” Hessenauer said of his sons.
The county’s revised order arrived weeks earlier than expected.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger this week thanked the Department of Public Health for essentially bringing the county in line with the state’s less stringent protocol after weeks of pushing the department to be more flexible about rules that had become difficult to enforce.
But even Barger noted that masks will not and should not be far away.
“On Friday, we are all on the same page,” said Barger, who along with Supervisor Janice Hahn had reflected a widespread sense that policies often could not be enforced. “But again, that does not mean you throw your mask away. They still serve a purpose … Moving forward does not mean that masks are irrelevant. … We must always be on our toes.”
Masks are still required at transit facilities, inside buses, in health centers, penitentiary facilities, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.
And everyone can put on a mask if they choose – especially people in high-risk groups – with employers obliged to provide them. Businesses and local authorities may choose to establish stricter infection control in accordance with the revised Health Order. For example, a company that is not already subject to a vaccination verification requirement may choose to establish one, according to the audit.
But even though residents in parts of LA County are still a little wary of taking them off, it’s clear they’re getting bolder as many believe COVID is loosening its grip on the population.
A study by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that Americans are now much less concerned about COVID than they were in December and January.
Data from the restaurant reservation software provider, OpenTable, showed that seated diners exceeded pre-pandemic levels late last month. And figures from the Transportation Security Administration reflected a sharp increase in the number of people willing to fly planes.
As mask mandates are completed and cases related to the highly transferable omicron variant have dropped, customer visits have more than doubled at p.volve, an online fitness company that offers workouts at home and has three gyms in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, said Julie Cartwright, company president.
This is a development story. More on the way.