Amid new LA County mask mandate, concerning COVID trend shows no sign of abating

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Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Amid new LA County mask mandate, concerning COVID trend continues
As L.A. County continues to see a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the new face-covering mandate that went into effect over the weekend is receiving mixed reactions.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County continues to see a resurgence in the COVID-19 pandemic that has seen local case rates and hospitalizations skyrocket -- with the latest numbers showing another 1,635 cases and four additional deaths.

Sunday was the 10th consecutive day that at least 1,000 new cases were reported.

The figures -- which brought the county's totals to 1,267,860 cases and 24,583 fatalities since the pandemic began -- likely reflect reporting delays over the weekend, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The number of people hospitalized in Los Angeles County due to the virus jumped from 507 on Saturday to 528, while the number of those patients in intensive care rose from 103 to 112, according to state figures.

LA County mask mandate goes into effect as 1,827 new COVID infections reported

A new face-covering mandate went into effect in Los Angeles County late Saturday night amid a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic that has seen local case rates and hospitalizations skyrocket.

Sunday's daily test positivity rate was 3.8%. On July 4, it was near 1.5%, and on June 15 -- the day most statewide restrictions were lifted -- test positivity was near 0.5%.

Health officials have attributed the recent spike to the presence of the more infectious Delta variant and the intermingling of unmasked individuals where vaccination status is unknown.

A new face-covering mandate went into effect in Los Angeles County at 11:59 p.m. Saturday that requires everyone to wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of their vaccination status.

"Given the increased intermingling among unmasked people where vaccination status is unknown, the millions of people still unvaccinated, and the increased circulation of the highly transmissible Delta variant, we are seeing a rapid increase in COVID-19 infection,'' County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

"The level of COVID-19 transmission we are currently experiencing is now leading to significant increases in serious illness and hospitalizations, and requires us to take immediate action to prevent erosion of our recovery efforts.

"And while vaccinations are by far the most powerful tool we have, we are nowhere near herd immunity. While we continue efforts to increase vaccination coverage and build confidence in the vaccines, the simplest and most effective public health measure to add back is to require that everyone wear a mask in all indoor public places and businesses. For those of us already vaccinated, we have been required for the last couple of months to continue to wear masks in many other public places including on all public transit, at all health care settings, schools and day care facilities. This was done in recognition that the vaccines, while extraordinarily effective, are not perfect and that we continue to have an obligation to reduce risk as much as possible.''

Not everyone at the county level is on board with the new mandate.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Friday his deputies will not actively enforce the mask-wearing mandate, insisting his department is under-funded. He also said the requirement for vaccinated people to wear masks "is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.''

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the lone Republican on the five-member Board of Supervisors, also criticized the mandate for running afoul of federal and state rules on masking. She said the mask mandate won't help the county's efforts "to stress the efficacy of the vaccines and compel unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated.''

"By deviating from the state, we create confusion and disagreement at the local level, which hinders public trust and takes away from our primary messaging, which should be to encourage individuals to get vaccinated with urgency given the spread of the Delta variant,'' Barger said.

Sheriff Villanueva won't enforce county's new mask order, claims 'not backed by science'

Los Angeles County's decision to reinstate the indoor mask mandate is getting mixed reactions, with some blasting it as unnecessary and others saying they are prepared to do what it takes to keep themselves and others safe.

Fellow board members Hilda Solis, Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl have come out in favor of the mandate.

"The county has chosen a reasonable response given that virtually everyone agrees requiring proof of vaccination status before entering buildings is unrealistic,'' Kuehl said. "This keeps businesses open but makes it less likely unvaccinated people will just skip masks and put us all at risk. Until we can lower community transmission again and get more Angelenos vaccinated, we all need to pitch in and keep from providing breeding grounds for even more variants.''

Hahn echoed that sentiment, saying on Twitter: "Right now, unvaccinated people are required to wear masks indoors -- but they aren't and they are spreading this virus to other unvaccinated people.''

Solis said Saturday that the new rule on face coverings was not tantamount to another lockdown.

"I want to emphasize that this indoor mask requirement does not stop us from enjoying all the great activities we have available through the county's reopening,'' she said. "We can still go out and engage in indoor shopping, supporting our local restaurants through indoor dining, catching a great movie and so much more.''

The masking mandate was announced Thursday by county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis.

"We're not where we need to be for the millions at risk of infection here in Los Angeles County, and waiting to do something would be too late given what we're seeing now,'' Davis said.

Davis said the rate of virus spread in the county has officially risen from moderate to substantial, with infections five times more likely to occur among unvaccinated residents.

The county previously only recommended indoor mask-wearing by vaccinated people in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and protect unvaccinated residents. People who are unvaccinated have always been required to wear masks indoors, although enforcement was left up to individual business owners and was generally on the honor system.

The masking order will remain in place "until we see improvements'' in case transmission, he said.

Asked if the county might consider re-implementing other health restrictions -- such as capacity limits and physical distancing, Davis said, "Everything is on the table if things continue to get worse.''

The mandate means customers are again required to mask up when entering any indoor public establishment, including retail shops, grocery stores, restaurants and workplaces. Davis said indoor dining will remain open, but customers will have to remain masked while they are not eating or drinking.

Why is LA County re-imposing mask mandate? COVID positivity rate increased by 700% in one month

With Los Angeles County's renewed indoor masking requirement set to take effect late Saturday night, many are questioning the decision.

Reaction to the renewed mandate is mixed among residents.

"I really don't mind, especially for little kids. I have a 5-year-old, so she can't get a vaccine, so it's just extra protection for her," one woman said.

Some, however, say they do mind.

"I feel like I don't need it, with the vaccination and everything," said one man.

The city of Long Beach, which has its own health department separate from the county, announced Thursday night it will align with the county and also require indoor mask wearing for all. In a statement, Long Beach officials said the city has seen a 288% increase in average daily cases over the past two weeks. The city's average daily rate of new cases has risen to 7.5 per 100,000 residents, up from an average of only one per 100,000 residents on June 15.

Pasadena, which also has its own health agency, has not aligned with the county and will continue only recommending indoor masking. But the city is monitoring "COVID case rates in Pasadena and are reviewing options for a mandate.''

City News Service contributed to this report.