Less than a week after a photo surfaced of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Magic Johnson maskless at SoFi Stadium, County Supervisor Katheryn Barger has ratcheted up the pressure on health officials to modify L.A.’s strict mask mandate for outdoor mega-events before the Super Bowl kicks off there on February 13.
After the mayor was spotted maskless at the NFC Championship Game, Barger issued a statement calling for an end to “blanket Covid masking policies.” Shortly thereafter, Barger sent a little-noticed official request to the County Public Health Department, asking it to “revisit the masking requirements” and align with the state’s less-stringent guidance for outdoor mega-events.
Without mentioning the mayor by name Barger observed, “This past weekend, we witnessed more than 70,000 fans in attendance for the National Football League NFC Championship game at SoFi Stadium, with a vast majority not wearing masks.” A quick glance at the “Rams Fam Cam” from the game confirms that statement. Barger called the lack of compliance “extremely discouraging.”
Barger said that L.A. Public Health officials have indicated “we have not observed any Covid-19 spikes resulting from prior games this season from games at that stadium.” She also maintained that she fully expects next week’s Super Bowl, also at SoFi, “will see even lower masking compliance.”
Failure to make the change would, she maintained, “again call into question why we have stricter County mandates in place that are neither followed nor enforced, causing more feelings of frustration for residents who have been subject to masking requirements more strictly enforced in other settings like schools, restaurants, and retail.”
The the logic of easing a regulation simply because it is not followed or enforced is not air tight; There is also the option of increasing enforcement. But local officials have been loath to do that, saying they prefer “educating” business owners, especially after restrictions on restaurants early in the pandemic roused strenuous objections from that sector. As of this moment, however, L.A. Public Health officials are standing their ground on masking at outdoor mega-events.
“This is not the right time to stop wearing our masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings,” said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer yesterday. She did, however, outline a framework for reducing Covid mitigation measures as the current Omicron surge fades, but she warned that, even after the surge, the threat level would still be considered “high” and numbers would need to come down considerably before restrictions are lifted.
Board of Supervisors Chairperson Holly Mitchell also rebuffed Barger this week, saying Covid transmission remains too high in the county to relax the masking rule.
Barger posted a statement to her web site about the letter she sent to Public Health officials. You can read it below.
Los Angeles County residents deserve clarity and consistency. Currently, L.A. County’s Health Officer Order regarding the outdoor mask mandate is the only one stricter than the State of California’s. I want to emphasize that wearing masks in high-risk indoor settings is still an important tool to combat COVID-19. However, State health experts have established that outdoor events and outdoor school environments are safe for residents to do without a mask. Aligning with the state is the most effective way to maintain the community’s confidence in our safety protocols.
With this in mind, I sent a letter to the Department of Public Health this week formally asking to align with State guidance. With the Super Bowl just over a week away where thousands of fans will arrive from outside L.A. County, I anticipate we won’t see very much compliance with our current mask mandate. We shouldn’t continue to have mandates in place that aren’t followed or enforced. This only continues to sow further distrust and frustration for L.A. County residents. As we near the two-year mark of this pandemic, it is imperative that we protect the public health and public trust of our communities.