You Now Have to Wear a Mask Indoors Here Again, Officials Say
This major city is bringing back its mask mandate as cases surge.
The spread of the Delta variant across the U.S. is having a profound impact on the COVID-19 pandemic's trajectory. Data now shows that cases are rising in all 50 states, with 38 seeing an increase of 50 percent or more in the past seven days. The highly contagious strain has some public health experts concerned that outbreaks will continue, especially in areas with low vaccination rates. But now, officials in Los Angeles have decided to bring back a mandate requiring citizens to wear masks whenever they're indoors in public in an attempt to curb an ongoing outbreak.
The revived rules, which went back into effect on July 18, stipulate that all people over the age of two must wear masks in public venues while indoors, including stores, gyms, theaters, offices, bars, and restaurants, The Los Angeles Times reports. The mandate also stipulates that while indoor dining at restaurants and cafes is still allowed, customers must wear their face coverings whenever they're not eating or drinking.
The move comes as Los Angeles County has seen a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases in just over a month, spiking from a daily average of 170 cases a day during the week of June 15 to nearly 1,400 over the past seven days. Hospitalizations from the virus were also up 27 percent over the past two weeks, according to data from The New York Times.
"This is very disturbing. And, of course, as responsible elected officials, we have to do something," Hilda Solis, chairwoman of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, said during a July 18 appearance on ABC's This Week. "I'm not pleased that we have to go back to using the masks in this manner," she then admitted. "But nonetheless, it's going to save lives. And right now, that to me is what's most important, and really getting more people to understand that they have to get vaccinated."
The move to reinstate the mask mandate was met with praise from some high-ranking federal officials. "In areas where there are low numbers of vaccinated people, where cases are rising, it's very reasonable for counties to take more mitigation measures, like the mask rules coming out of L.A.," U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, said while also appearing on This Week the same day. "And I anticipate that will happen in other parts of the country—and that's not contradictory to the guidance the CDC issued."
Still, some local officials bristled at the return of mask requirements, including L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who said that he would not be enforcing the mandate. In comments made on July 17, he claimed that the order ran "counter to science" and CDC guidance that recommends fully vaccinated people can safely be indoors without wearing a face covering.
But Solis defended the decision, arguing that the current rise in cases warranted the return of public health protocols. "I would say that it's not punishment, it's prevention," Solis said. "We still have 4 million people out of 10 million that haven't been vaccinated, and many of them are young people, and we're seeing that this transmission is so highly contagious, that it will cost more in the long run if we have to see our hospitals being impacted, our ICU units, as well as our health care workers. I just want to caution people that we still have many youngsters under the age of 12 who are not eligible to get vaccinated."
While the return of face masks may feel like a major regression, one expert said it was unlikely that other measures such as enforced social distancing or reduced capacity limitations will be coming back unless the surge in cases took a severe turn for the worse. According to Robert Kim-Farley, MD, medical epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, the mandate will likely be lifted as soon as infection rates drop back to relatively safe levels and likely stay gone once young children can receive the vaccine.
"I think that's when the tables will begin to turn, and people will be saying, 'All right … we've talked to you about the importance of vaccination, and you're still refusing vaccination. That is your right," he told The L.A. Times. "But then you have to accept all the responsibility of a bad outcome if you came down with disease."