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In a major policy shift, Los Angeles County has lifted its indoor mask mandate to allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to remove face coverings indoors at establishments that verify patrons’ vaccination status.

The new health order, however, will put the onus on businesses to ensure that all customers permitted indoors are either fully vaccinated or can provide proof of a recent negative COVID test. Even after that verification, only fully vaccinated customers will be permitted to remove masks indoors. Unvaccinated customers must continue wearing masks indoors, even after showing proof of a negative COVID test, unless they are actively eating or drinking.

The same basic rules will apply to workers at indoor establishments.

“While there are powerful tools that impede virus transmission, none are perfect, which is why we often need to use a variety of safety measures to reduce transmission,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “When transmission is very high, we need to create the most complete shield we can, so that’s why it’s important that we layer in all the protections at hand.

“As transmission drops and there is less virus circulating, some tools may afford significant protections against the very worst risks associated with COVID. Because vaccines are one of these tools, with lower rates of hospital admissions and COVID hospitalizations, it is appropriate in settings verifying vaccination or negative test status, that we transition to strongly recommending masking instead of requiring masking.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger initially pushed for the county to align with the state, saying the contradictory requirements were leading to apathy and lax compliance among residents. Supervisor Janice Hahn joined Barger in that call last week, pointing to the recent Super Bowl in Inglewood as an example of people willfully ignoring the county’s masking guidelines.

“I’ve been calling for this all along,” Barger said. “This is another step toward living (with) COVID-19 in a balanced way. But piecemealed policies are frustrating and confusing.”

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