Without County Mask Mandate, L.A. Colleges Develop Individual Policies

Public health officials say the latest COVID-19 wave has crested and hope the most populous U.S. county will move to “medium” community transmission levels soon.
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  • Los Angeles County announced last week it will not institute a universal indoor mask mandate.
  • College students make up 7.34% of Greater L.A.'s population.
  • Institutions are now left to develop their own COVID-19 safety policies for the fall 2022 semester.

Los Angeles County isn't instituting an indoor mask mandate, leaving COVID-19 safety measures impacting nearly 1 million college students up to their individual institutions.

The most populous U.S. county was at "high" COVID-19 community transmission levels for most of July as infectious omicron subvariants spread.

However, the L.A. County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) announced last Thursday that COVID-19 community transmission levels were in decline. And the department was optimistic that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) might drop the region to "medium" transmission levels in the first weeks of August.

As a result, L.A. public health officials declined to institute a universal indoor mask mandate as the month closed.

"We will be pausing, and not moving forward at this time," Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said Thursday in a press conference.

Masks remain required in indoor public transit areas in L.A. County, including airports, as well as in healthcare settings, nursing homes, prisons, and shelters. Private businesses and schools are allowed to require indoor masking as well.

A universal masking mandate would have applied to nearly a million college students in what is the country's second-largest college town. College students make up 7.34% of Greater L.A.'s population, according to an analysis by Richard Florida.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is the largest school in the University of California system with more than 51,000 students. The nine institutions in the Los Angeles Community College District enroll nearly 230,000 students.

The county is also home to private institutions such as the University of Southern California (USC), 49,500 students; Loyola Marymount University (LMU), 10,000 students; California Institute of Technology, 2,400 students; and Occidental College, 2,000 students.

With L.A. County declining to institute a mask mandate that would have applied to all educational institutions, the region's colleges are developing their own policies as the fall semester approaches.

As of June 14, UCLA requires everyone on campus to mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status. According to the UCLA website, "this decision will be reevaluated when UCLA and LA County case numbers and test positivity rates, as well as other metrics, plateau or improve. Additionally, these decisions are contingent on LACDPH masking requirements."

A UCLA spokesperson told BestColleges in an email that instructions for the fall quarter, which begins Sept. 19, have not been issued.

As of July 13, USC is not requiring masks for those on campus. In an Aug. 2 letter sent to students, Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman, M.D., said the school "strongly recommend[s] wearing medical-grade masks or respirator masks (including surgical, N95, KN95, KF94) when indoors around others to reduce transmission and risk of infection."

"The university follows the guidelines set by the county and the state," a USC spokesperson told BestColleges in an email.

At Loyola Marymount University, those on campus will be required to wear masks at "indoor meetings, gatherings, and learning spaces with 10 or more individuals," according to the school's website.

Additionally, masks are required at LMU "where public health protocols require their continued use" including Student Health Services, Student Psychological Services, and the LMU shuttle.

The Los Angeles Community College District has not released new guidance for its students for the fall semester. Their COVID-19 news page was last updated May 31, 2022.

Farther south in Orange County, the University of California, Irvine reinstated its indoor mask mandate July 18 after the CDC moved the region to the "high" COVID-19 community transmission level.