L.A. County Will Mandate Masks Indoors to Combat Delta


Los Angeles County announced Thursday that it will require masks to be worn inside regardless of vaccination status, as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads throughout California.

Public health officials in L.A. County had already been urging residents to wear masks indoors. The mandate will begin Saturday night, just before midnight.

Only weeks ago, on June 15, Californians celebrated their state’s reopening as most restrictions were lifted. A statewide mask mandate was relaxed for vaccinated people.

The Delta variant is extremely contagious, scientists say, and may cause more severe illness. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, has described it as “the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate Covid-19.” The tens of millions of Americans who are vaccinated are largely protected from the virus, including the Delta variant, scientists have said.

The C.D.C. says that the variant is now responsible for over half of all new cases in the United States. While cases are rising nationally, overall, the average numbers of new virus cases and deaths, as well as hospitalizations, are significantly down from the devastating peaks during previous national surges.

Daily case numbers have increased at least 15 percent over the last two weeks in 49 states, including 19 states that are reporting at least twice as many new cases a day. Full-fledged outbreaks have emerged in a handful of places with relatively low vaccination rates, including Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Nevada.

L.A. County is averaging over 1,000 new cases per day, a 279 percent increase from the average two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. By comparison, the county averaged at least 13,000 new cases or higher through much of December and January. Hospitalizations are up 27 percent over the past two weeks.

Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist and clinical professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, said that he doesn’t think the Delta variant is a particular threat to the many people who have vaccinated in Los Angeles, and the large swath of population that has already been infected with the virus.

Still, other experts have noted that there are millions of Californians — including children and Black and Latino essential workers — who have not yet been vaccinated. Over 51 percent of California’s total population has been fully vaccinated and 52 percent of L.A. County residents have received both doses, according to a New York Times database.

“These increases in cases and hospitalizations are occurring among the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health. “This virus, if you are not vaccinated, will find you.”

Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health, said the new mandate made sense. “A universal mask mandate that is not based on vaccination status makes it very possible to implement,” she said. “Having to wear a mask indoors, for everyone, is simple and efficient.”

California has said that it would continue requiring masks in public schools, a policy that has been in place since February and was reiterated in new guidance released for K-12 public schools.

That goes against guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has called for a full return to classrooms in the fall and recommended that masks be optional for fully vaccinated students and staff.

Also on Thursday, the University of California announced that students and personnel must require proof of vaccination two weeks before returning to campus for the fall term. Students who don’t provide proof of vaccination or who haven’t applied for an exception or deferral by that date may have their registration put on hold.

The spread of the Delta variant has prompted a vigorous new vaccination push from the Biden administration, and federal officials are planning to send medical teams to communities facing outbreaks that now seem inevitable.



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