In the past few days, you may have noticed a lot of people without a mask inside grocery stores or your favorite retailer.
The lack of face coverings comes just days after Los Angeles County lifted the indoor mask requirement on March 4. The county took the action with the approval of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which declared that the county’s level of community transmission had officially fallen into the “low” category.
It is the most visible sign that COVID-19 is on the decline again, two years after the start of the pandemic. However, according to this new guide, companies can still choose to maintain the obligation, both for customers and employees. Los Angeles County residents can also decide whether or not to wear a mask in any public space.
So what should you do about face coverings, social distancing, and other routine precautions related to the pandemic?
To answer that question, here are some facts about updated guidance from county, state, and federal health experts.
When should I wear a mask?
Now that LA County has eliminated the indoor mask requirement, deciding where and when to wear it is up to you.
However, county health officials, their state peers, and the CDC “strongly recommend” wearing face coverings in closed public places and businesses, as well as in crowded outdoor settings.
If you are not sure what to do, you can consider how prevalent COVID-19 cases are in your area. You can find the latest data on The Times coronavirus tracker or, for Los Angeles County, on the daily data page.
What about social distancing and gatherings?
These days, the county’s top prevention strategies for businesses and organizations revolve around mask wearing, testing, vaccination verification, and ventilation, without requiring social distancing. When it comes to gatherings, the main focus is on reducing indoor crowding and ventilation.
Most stores have eliminated those large floor decals that separated customers six feet apart in checkout lines. In fact, Los Angeles County’s social distancing protocol is not in effect as of April 30, 2021.
If you attend a large gathering or event, you’ll still increase your chance of being exposed to COVID-19, the CDC warns.
When planning a gathering with friends and family, the CDC recommends that you consider the level of risk for COVID-19 in your community. With that information, you can decide if it would be wise to move the encounter outdoors or take other steps to protect against the spread of infection.
How can I know if I have contracted COVID-19?
More than 1,400 people in LA County are still testing positive for the coronavirus every day, so keep in mind: the virus is still around, and you can still get infected. Health officials in California are warning that we should not be surprised by possible sudden spikes or the appearance of a new variant of coronavirus. In fact, cases are on the rise in Europe, fueled in part by a more infectious version of the Omicron variant.
The CDC has a “self-check” questionnaire on its website to help you decide whether to seek appropriate medical care. However, it is not intended to help you diagnose yourself or choose treatment.
Early symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person to person, and the list of possible symptoms hasn’t changed much since the early days of the pandemic. You may have COVID if you feel: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
The CDC says this list does not include every possible symptom and promises to continue updating it as more is known about the virus.
What do I do if I test positive for COVID-19?
In Los Angeles County, if you test positive you should self-isolate, wear a mask indoors and outdoors, and tell close contacts that they have been exposed to the virus.
Anyone with COVID-19 must isolate for at least five days. You may require more time apart if you still have symptoms and test positive on the fifth day of isolation.
If you have any questions, you can call the county’s COVID information line at (833) 540-0473. Help is available from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
When can I go back to work after having COVID?
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, employees who become infected must stay out for at least five full days after symptoms appear or the worker tests positive. Employers may allow them to return if they test negative, show improvement in symptoms, and are fever-free for at least 24 hours without medication. The guideline is the same regardless of whether or not the employee is fully vaccinated against COVID.
If not tested, employees can return to duty after 10 days of isolation if they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the aid of medication and are symptom-free or improving.
The CDC states that people who are mildly ill with COVID-19 should continue to wear a properly fitted mask when around others for an additional five days after the original isolation period.
If you tested positive but have no symptoms, you can return to work if you never have symptoms, test negative for COVID-19 on the fifth day of isolation, and wear a well-fitting face covering for 10 days.
If you are an employee and you know you have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should self-isolate for at least five days and get tested on the fifth day.
How do I get more COVID-19 tests?
There are several ways to get tested or order home kits.
If you need to take a test for work, your employer is required to provide it to you. Similarly, if you have to take a test to attend school, your school must do so.
You can purchase a test kit at no cost and without an appointment through the LA County Pick-Up Testing Kit program. There are 13 testing sites where you can pick up a sample collection kit. You can take the sample right there, in your car or at home, then return the kit to the site. The test must be activated using a link provided on the outside of the test packet, and the county encourages you to return the sample within three to five days. Fulgent Genetics, which tests the samples, will send you an email to notify you when the results are ready.
You can also order a set of four free home COVID-19 tests from the federal government online, even if you already received a first set (you are entitled to two). These kits are shipped directly to your home address via the US Postal Service.
Finally, if you have health insurance, you can get over-the-counter home test kits and receive reimbursement, or possibly even get them for free at your insurer’s preferred pharmacies. Contact your insurer for more details.
Do I need a COVID-19 test to fly?
A COVID-19 test is required for all international travelers entering the United States, even if fully vaccinated. A sample must be collected no more than one day prior to flight departure. Children under the age of two and people who can show they have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days are exempt from the requirement.
To document that you have recovered from COVID, you will need to show a positive COVID-19 test result up to 90 days prior to flight departure and a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official stating that is authorized to travel.
Before you travel, check your destination’s COVID-19 safety guidance on testing. If you are traveling within the US and are not fully vaccinated, CDC guidance is to get tested at least three days before you travel and three to five days after you return home.
If you’re fully vaccinated, consider getting tested before and after your trip anyway.
Should we apply more reinforcements?
Otto Yang, a professor of medicine and microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA, said the situation continues to change as we wait for data from the first booster shot.
“We are following the data in real time to make decisions, but based on monitoring in other countries, and based on the data that is being developed now, it seems that immunity is decreasing,” he said.
There are two sources of immunity that are promoted by the vaccine: antibodies and T cells. Antibodies work to prevent initial symptomatic infection, Yang explained, and T cells work to prevent severe cases or death once someone has been infected.
What we know now, he added, is that antibody counts drop very quickly and are greatly affected by the unique characteristics of the variants, especially Delta and Omicron. T cells remain longer than antibodies, but their effectiveness also decreases with time after vaccination.
In February, the CDC released a report that found that the booster’s protection against severe cases and death begins to wane noticeably after about four months. “That is, of course, quite concerning in terms of personal protection because ultimately what really matters is that the vaccine protects an individual from being hospitalized or dying,” Yang said.
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