L.A. Moviegoers Have to Be Vaccinated. Why Not Oscar Attendees?

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To go out to a movie in Los Angeles, patrons must show proof of COVID vaccination. The same applies for sitting in a restaurant or going to a gym or getting a haircut.

When Hollywood’s brightest stars gather for the Academy Awards on March 27, they will not face a vaccine requirement. But the same “mega event” loophole that allows the Crypto.com Arena to be vaccine optional will allow the Oscars to also offer that option.

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The Academy confirmed on Wednesday that attendees will have the option to show a recent negative COVID test instead.

On its face, the rule doesn’t make much sense. Surely the risk of COVID transmission is higher in a crowd of thousands of people — elbowing for space at the bar, or bunched in line for the Dolby Theatre bathrooms — than it would be in a mostly-empty movie theater across the street.

But that’s the odd result of a complex patchwork of COVID regulations in Los Angeles.

Last October, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance that imposes a vaccine requirement for a broad array of indoor venues, including theaters, restaurants, yoga studios, live performance venues, malls, and sports arenas. The rule went into effect on Nov. 29, and included only narrow exemptions for people with certain medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs.

The city’s vaccine mandate is stricter than the rules in the rest of California. But the ordinance also included one important line: “Nothing herein shall be interpreted to supersede or modify any Orders issued by the DPH, State Public Health Officer, or federal government.”

In other words, if the state, county or federal government had chosen to set its own regulations, the city would default to those rules — even if they were not as strict. The city’s strict mandate would apply only where other officials decided that no rules were needed at all.

California and Los Angeles County officials have established rules for so-called “mega events.” For indoor events with at least 1,000 attendees and outdoor events with 10,000 attendees — the thresholds were later reduced to 500 and 5,000 — the county Department of Public Health established a vaccine-or-test requirement.

That rule will be in place for the Super Bowl, which will be held in Inglewood this weekend. It requires that attendees ages 2 and older show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. The negative test can be a PCR test taken within the last two days, or an antigen test taken within the last 24 hours.

The same rule applies at venues like Crypto.com Arena, which hosts the Lakers, Kings, Clippers, and concerts. Even though the venue is within the city of Los Angeles — and the city’s vaccine mandate specifically applies to “sports arenas” — Crypto.com Arena is using the county’s less restrictive vaccine-or-test rule.

So: an unvaccinated person in Los Angeles cannot sit down inside a Chipotle, but they can go to a Laker game or attend the Oscars, provided they have a recent negative test. Such venues could impose a stricter vaccine mandate if they wanted to — but they’re not required to.

That’s just one of the confusing results of state and local requirements that are often being adjusted, and not always in tandem.

State health officials announced earlier this week that they would lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 16. But Barbara Ferrer, the director of the L.A. County Public Health Department, said on Thursday that the county’s indoor mask rules will stay in place for at least several weeks, perhaps until the end of March.

So it’s not clear whether Oscar attendees will have to wear masks or not. But unless the Academy has a change of heart, they will not have to be vaccinated.

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