California to lift indoor mask mandate for the vaccinated

File: A student wears a mask while waiting for class to start amid the Covid pandemic at Washington Elementary School on Wednesday (AP)
File: A student wears a mask while waiting for class to start amid the Covid pandemic at Washington Elementary School on Wednesday (AP)

California is set to end its state-wide indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people next week after it was reinstated in December last year amid a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant in the US.

Citing a decrease in California’s reported Covid infections by 65 per cent, governor Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that the “statewide indoor mask requirement will expire” on 15 February.

“Unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks indoors,” he added.

Masks will, however, still be required indoors for all individuals – vaccinated or not – in higher-risk areas like schools, public transit spaces, nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, according to officials.

Local public health officials, however, still have the authority to retain restrictions depending on the Covid situation.

The California Department of Public Health said it was still working with education, public health and community leaders to update masking requirements at schools to adapt to changing conditions and ensure the safety of children, teachers and staff.

“Additional adjustments to the state’s policies will be shared in the coming week,” it added.

Retaining its stricter restrictions against Covid, Los Angeles County’s health officials said last week they intended to keep restrictions in place beyond the state deadline.

According to new guidelines, indoor “mega events” with more than 1,000 people will require attendees to show vaccine proofs or negative tests and unvaccinated individuals will be required to wear masks.

For outdoor events with more than 10,000 people, there will be no vaccination requirements, but masks or negative tests are recommended.

The state has increased the attendee limit to 1,000 people and 10,000 people from the earlier 500- and 5,000-people limit for indoor and outdoor events respectively.

The threshold increase will come into effect two days after the state hosts the Super Bowl at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

The state will also lift the requirement for people to produce a negative Covid test before visiting hospitals and nursing homes.

“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.”

Cases have dropped by more than 85 per cent after California surpassed 80,000 pandemic deaths and 8 million confirmed positive cases last week. New cases, hospitalisations and ICU admission continued to decline till Monday.

The mask mandate was reinstated in mid-December as the Omicron variant led to an unprecedented spike in infections across the country.

California had earlier lifted the mask mandate for vaccinated people as of 15 June, a date Mr Newsom had described then as the state’s grand reopening.

But several counties in California had soon re-instituted local mask orders as a summer surge led by the Delta variant had taken hold.