Los Angeles County Health officials said on Thursday and Friday that LA County may bring back public indoor mask mandates as soon as the end of July, signaling a regression in COVID-19 policies as new COVID-19 omicron variants come into the state.
Since the repeal of state and local indoor mask mandates in the late winter and early spring of this year, fluctuating COVID-19 transmission rates, as well as rising rates of new cases in the last few months and new variants on the horizon, such as Omicron BA.4 and Omicron BA.5, have counties reconsidering bringing masks and restrictions back. While many have been close to the threshold, which is getting a high number of new cases and hospitalizations over several weeks, some counties have already brought mandates back.
The largest county to date in California to bring back indoor mask mandates has been Alameda County, which brought back the mandate over a month ago on June 3rd. LA County, meanwhile, has been on notice since that time, as rates of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 have crept up. Barbara Ferrer, the LA County Director of Public Health, has tried implementing new measures, such as promoting increased vaccinations for those under 18, in recent weeks in an attempt to curb the growth. However, on Thursday, she noted that the mandate could be back very soon.
“Now, given that we have a lot more BA.4 and BA.5 circulating, that’s really sort of making it much harder to actually slow spread,” explained Ferrer. “We can’t predict with certainty what the future hospitalization trend will look like. However, it is looking more likely, as cases and admissions have continued to increase, that we’ll enter the high community level designation later this month.” See the LA County public health website.
A possible return of mask mandates
According to the Department, if LA County reaches the “high” COVID-19 community level next week, and stays at that level for an additional two weeks, the mask mandate for the County will come into effect and be active on July 29th. However, that is worst case scenario based on the current trends. A return may come in August, September or never, all depending on if the County gets too many new cases and hospitalizations and for how long. While the CDC cannot order a County to bring back masks, their recommendations for many counties in California to bring back the mandates, could influence some, including LA County, to bring them back sooner than later as well.
Despite LA County being close, healthcare officials advised on Friday to not panic, as it would be just as likely that masks would not be returning.
“People do not want these mask mandates back,” Chase Alexander, a healthcare worker in Southern California who has given County mask enforcement information to many businesses in the last few years, told the Globe. “A lot of people have gotten that they were needed, but rates now so low and everyone wanting normalcy back, the return of masks would be a huge blow to businesses, to morale, to pretty much everything. Masks should only be in play when there is a real danger, and less and less lethal variants don’t quite push that. We should definitely track them and make sure they don’t get out of hand, but right now everyone is overreacting to a normal summer bump of cases.”
“What should happen first is a call for volunteers to wear them and see if rates go down with that. Not just go from 0 to mandate. And if it does return, some in LA might do what happened in Philly and sue to remove it. That’s how much it is not liked.”
The next COVID-19 data review in LA County that will help decide on if a mandate will return to the County is on July 14th.
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