Los Angeles County likely to resume mask mandate - but will that limit COVID spread?

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
LA County supervisor opposes return to mandatory indoor masking
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the 5th district in the northern part of the county, is publicly speaking out against the universal requirement.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Within a few days, Los Angeles County is expected to require masks indoors again. In most places, anyway.

But at least one member of the county's Board of Supervisors is speaking out against the plan.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger who represents the 5th district in the northern part of the county, is publicly speaking out against the universal requirement.

"I am not questioning the effectiveness of wearing a mask," Barger said. "I'm questioning the effectiveness of making a mandate and telling people that they have to. I think it has an opposite effect and people will choose to defy."

Later this week, LA County is expected to require masks indoors again. But at least one county supervisor is speaking out against the plan.

Barger supports the practice in healthcare settings and public transportation, but says to have L.A. County implement a mandate without other nearby counties doing the same makes no sense.

"Alameda (county) did it. And after three weeks when they lifted the mandate, they found the surrounding counties' numbers were comparable to theirs and they didn't mandate masking," Barger said.

Also objecting to the plan is the city of Beverly Hills.

The Beverly Hills City Council decided Monday that city staffers will not enforce a new mask mandate in the city limits. While the city does fall under the county health department's jurisdiction, the city says it has the discretion whether to use its resources to implement the order.

"I feel it is our job to lead and I support the power of choice," said Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse. "Our job is to be proactive and public about what we believe. This is a united City Council and community that cares about health. We are not where we were in 2020, and now we need to move forward as a community and be part of the solution."

Dr. Nicole Van Groningen, a hospitalist with Cedars-Sinai, said the effectiveness of mask mandates simply depends on how much people actually follow them.

"So to the question of 'Do mask mandates work?' The answer is yes, but with an asterisk. And that asterisk is to the extent that people actually follow them," Van Groningen said.

Van Groningen said highly-respected peer-reviewed studies show masks can prevent community transmission if everyone participates. She said mask mandates are not really about enforcement, but rather education.

"I view it as it's no skin off my nose, but it's really going to help someone who may be immunocompromised, who is shopping next to me in the grocery store, and who COVID would impact much more significantly," Van Groningen said.

The county is poised to reach two weeks in the "high" level of virus activity as of Thursday. If so, the indoor mask mandate would take effect Friday.

But if COVID infections and hospitalizations dip, the target date could change.

"You could see we're on the cusp, between medium and high. It isn't going to take much to move us back into that medium community level," said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

At Cedars-Sinai, Van Groningen said hospital admissions are starting to stabilize after several weeks of increases, but we need to look ahead as the highly-transmissible and immune-evading BA.5 subvariant continues to circulate.

"Even if you were actually sick with COVID recently like in the last couple of weeks or months, you are still prone to infection again with this variant," she said.

Ferrer is set to give an update at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

Late last week she said case numbers appeared to be leveling off and the number of people hospitalized dropped over the weekend.