The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed today to end the county's local emergency declarations due to COVID-19 at the end of March, while warning that the move doesn't mean the virus no longer poses a threat.
"Yes, COVID-19 is still with us,'' Supervisor Hilda Solis said. "No, we don't want to abandon those tools that got us to this place ... but with effective vaccines and testing abundantly available we can move on to the next phase of our response to COVID-19."
The board voted unanimously in support of Supervisor Janice Hahn's motion, which will end the proclamation of a local emergency and the proclamation of a local health emergency on March 31. The board's decision came on the day the statewide COVID emergency declaration ended.
Hahn noted in her motion that the emergency declarations "saved lives and protected the health of county residents.'' But it noted that thanks to the widespread availability of vaccines, therapeutics and other measures to combat virus spread and illness, "hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 have dramatically reduced."
"Over the last three years, the county has developed the tools to continue to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 without exclusively relying on the use of the extraordinary powers afforded by the various emergency proclamations and declarations,'' Hahn's motion states. "The county's sustained preparedness, infrastructure and available tools in combating COVID-19 demonstrate that it is time to evaluate the county's readiness to terminate both the county's proclamation of local emergency and declaration of local health emergency for COVID-19."
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said the county is "no longer at that point of needing the same level of emergency response'' due to the virus.
"Although COVID-19 is still present, ... we are at less risk of crippling our health care system and making it become overwhelmed,'' she said.
Lifting the emergency declarations does not automatically mean that all COVID-related restrictions will immediately go away. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week her agency will be reviewing existing health officer orders, noting that some of the requirements in them were enacted under the county's emergency declaration, but others were not.
"So by the end of March, some of the health officer orders that were written here in L.A. County by Dr. (Muntu) Davis (the county health officer), would in fact need to be changed if they are going to continue, because some of them were done under an emergency declaration," Ferrer said. "There are other
health officer orders that aren't done under emergency declaration."
"... A health officer always has authority to mitigate the impact of communicable diseases,'' she said.
One of the mandates set to be lifted is a requirement that people who are exposed to COVID-19 wear a mask for 10 days. Ferrer said public health officials will be reviewing data to determine whether that requirement will continue under a revised health order.
"We're looking hard at the information that comes out about what you should do to minimize risk, and what are the patterns that we see as we have more infectious strains that seem to lead to less serious or severe illness," Ferrer said. "... My promise is before we get to the end of March we will have made that decision and we will have plenty of time to communicate our decision and also to hear back from folks about concerns. I think we're going to hear from people who want us to move in both directions because that's where we've been with most of the guidance."
Ferrer noted that some requirements -- such as mandatory mask-wearing at health care facilities -- are state orders, not county.
"We're anxiously awaiting like everyone else if there are going to be changes there,'' she said.
Ferrer insisted, however, that even when state and local emergency declarations end, public health officials "will continue to work to ensure the public is informed, resources are available to limit transmission and severe illness and that we'll all be prepared to move forward together."
Several speakers at the county board meeting called for the emergency declarations to end immediately, rather than waiting until the end of March. Others demanded that the board also lift its vaccine mandate for county employees and rehire people who were terminated for failing to adhere to it.
In conjunction with its vote to lift the local emergency declarations, the Board of Supervisors also directed its CEO to report back in 30 days on "operational implications'' of the move for various county agencies and on "recommendations, communications and outreach strategies to the public'' about any possible changes in county operations as a result of the move.
The city of Pasadena, which has its own health department separate from the county, announced Tuesday its local public health emergency will be lifted on Sunday.