Masks: Masking will remain optional in most places across LA County. Emily Sawicki

Facing flattening COVID-19 metrics and intense community pushback, the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) announced on Thursday, July 28, that it would not be imposing new indoor mask mandates beginning the following day.

The renewed mask rules were announced two weeks ago during a DPH press briefing on July 21, after LA County COVID-19 case metrics, particularly hospitalization metrics, moved the County into the “high” community level.

“Given the declines in case and hospitalization numbers, we’re hopeful that the [hospital] admission rate over the next few days remains under 10 new admissions per 100,000 residents and LA County is soon officially moved by CDC to the medium community level,” LA County DPH Director Barbara Ferrer said during the weekly COVID-19 briefing on Thursday.

“As I noted last week, any indication that the County would soon be moving to the ‘medium’ community level would be a good reason to not move forward with universal indoor masking, which is what we’re doing today,” she added a few moments later. “We will be pausing and not moving forward at this time.”

The announcement came two days after Ferrer spoke to LA County Supervisors about the impending mandate. At the time, Ferrer indicated the County was still on track to go back to universal indoor masking, but two supervisors — Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn — both spoke strongly against the mandate. Hahn suggested the County may consider a compromise, adding mask mandates to grocery stores and pharmacies as “essential businesses.”

On Tuesday, Ferrer said DPH would take that suggestion under consideration. Two days later, she said County attorneys were looking into the possibility, should another virus wave necessitate more public health measures in the future.

“It’s always difficult to actually apply one set of standards to one set of businesses or locations and not another,” Ferrer said, later adding, “I think it’s a great idea for us to look into. I’m just not sure whether or not we’d be able to do it.”

Another reporter asked how much the strong public resistance to potential mask orders entered into the DPH decision to not enforce a new indoor mandate.

Ferrer did not directly answer, but said, “We made our decision based on the data.”

Indoor mask orders remained in place in some sectors considered especially high risk: on all public transit including trains, buses and rideshares; inside all indoor transportation hubs such as train stations and airports; in healthcare settings including hospitals and skilled nursing facilities; inside correctional facilities; and inside homeless shelters and cooling centers.

County rules also specify private businesses that wish to impose mask mandates are also permitted to do so by the County Health Order.

emily@smdp.com