EDITOR'S NOTE: Multimedia journalist Catalina Villegas spoke with a Rancho Palos Verdes attorney and mother of three who is against the mask mandate at local schools. Click the arrow above to watch the video.
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Days after most spectators at Super Bowl LVI were seen ignoring the face-covering requirement, Los Angeles County Wednesday lifted its COVID-19 mandate requiring people to wear masks at outdoor mega-events and outdoors at K-12 schools and child care centers.
Lax adherence to the mask requirement at SoFi Stadium was an issue throughout the recently concluded NFL season, however, the county insisted that the rule remain in place amid elevated COVID virus-related hospitalizations.
But that changed Wednesday, when the outdoor mask-wearing requirement was officially lifted. Wednesday will be the seventh consecutive day the number of COVID-19-positive patients in the county have remained below 2,500 -- the benchmark previously announced by county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. As of Tuesday, there were 1,995 COVID-positive hospital patients in the county, according to state figures.
Although the county's lifting of the outdoor mask-wearing requirement applies to schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District is keeping the rule in place for the rest of the week.
New Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced Tuesday night that while the district has followed the county's guidelines closely, it "will keep the current guidelines in place for the remainder of the week and will announce changes to our outdoor masking guidance as early as next week."
Carvalho, speaking to local media Wednesday morning, said the delay is primarily to coordinate protocols with school administrators, labor groups and parents. He expressed confidence that outdoor mask wearing would likely end by next week.
The decision, however, prompted outrage from some parents who lashed out on social media and blasted Carvalho, who just started as superintendent this week.
"It's your first day and you've already failed to do what's right," one parent wrote online. Another wrote, "End all mandates in schools! Our children need to breathe fresh air."
It was unclear if the district's labor contract with the powerful United Teachers Los Angeles Union played into the delay in lifting the mandate. The district's COVID protocol agreement with the union states specifically that masks — provided by the district — will be required for all adults and students.
UTLA officials could not be reached for immediate comment.
The county's elimination of the outdoor masking mandate coincided with the state's Wednesday lifting of its indoor mask-wearing requirement for fully vaccinated residents. Los Angeles County, however, will maintain its indoor mask mandate for all people, regardless of vaccination status.
Ferrer said again Tuesday that the county's indoor masking rule will remain in place until the county's virus-transmission rate falls to the "moderate" level, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and stays there for two weeks. Ferrer said the county's rate is declining, and at the current pace, it should reach the "moderate" level by March 16, meaning the indoor mask requirement could be lifted by March 30.
She said she understands residents' desire to shed face coverings, but the "issue is one of timing." Ferrer said masks are a critical level of protection when virus transmission remains high.
The 1,995 virus-positive hospital patients reported Tuesday was down from 2,054 on Monday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care units was 423 as of Tuesday, down from 437 on Monday.
Hospitalizations had climbed to over 4,800 in mid-January at the height of the omicron-variant-fueled winter surge in cases.
The county on Tuesday reported 55 more COVID-19-related deaths, raising the overall virus death toll to 29,980.
Another 2,133 COVID cases were announced, giving the county a cumulative total of 2,766,161 from throughout the pandemic.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 3.2% as of Tuesday.
Ferrer urged anyone who attended the Super Bowl or watched the game in a crowded location with unmasked people to consider getting tested for COVID.
"To the many residents who watched the Super Bowl this past weekend at SoFi stadium, with friends and family at your home, or at a local bar or restaurant, please get tested if you were in crowded places where many were unmasked," she said in a statement. "This is particularly important for anyone experiencing illness symptoms. We would like to avoid the increases in cases that have sometimes occurred following large sporting events. For those celebrating at the Rams Super Bowl victory parade (Wednesday), being cautious still makes sense so please continue to wear masks if in close contact with many others."