Debate intensifies over potential mask rule for LA County

Will Los Angeles County impose a new mask mandate this week in response to a summer coronavirus surge fueled by ultra-contagious Omicron subvariants?

The county seemed ready to take that step this week, but the recent drop in cases could cause a delay. Still, the idea has sparked debate, with some communities in Los Angeles saying they wouldn’t enforce a mask mandate if it happened.

Here is a breakdown of the health issues and policies involving the potential public health order:

Why are we here?

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said LA County would reimpose an indoor mask mandate if it reaches the high community level for COVID-19, as defined by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States, and remained there for two consecutive weeks. Placement in this category means that a county has both a significant number of coronavirus cases and at least 10 new weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 population.

LA County entered the top tier on July 14 and stayed there for the past week. County officials make the decision every Thursday, using criteria established by the CDC.

If implemented, the mandate would apply indoors to anyone 2 years of age or older in a range of establishments and locations, including shared offices, manufacturing and retail facilities. , event spaces, restaurants and bars, gyms and yoga studios, educational facilities and children’s programs.

Case

However, Ferrer said the county could suspend a mask mandate if transmission shows pronounced signs of slowing down.

And case rates have plummeted. As of Tuesday afternoon, LA County averaged about 6,000 daily coronavirus cases over the previous week, down 11% from the previous week’s average of 6,700. Per capita, the latest rate is 417 cases per week per 100,000 population. A score of 100 or more is considered high.

Cases are also declining across the state. California reported an average of 17,000 per day over the past week, down 17% from a week ago.

The decline could be attributed to a number of factors.

As coronavirus cases have increased in recent weeks and hospitalizations have worsened, a number of LA County businesses have tightened COVID-19 restrictions. Some have decided to cancel or postpone the gatherings or move them outdoors.

About a month ago, hospitalization levels passed a threshold that prompted the TV and film industry to resume some indoor masking requirements. Moving its in-person summer tour to virtual sessions, the Television Critics Assn. cited growing concerns about the outbreak, fueled by the hyper-contagious BA.5 subvariant, and the potential mask mandate in LA County as the reason “shows in production can’t or won’t break the COVID bubbles” and “producers, writers, talent and publicists are unwilling to show up in person.

It’s also possible that BA.5 is starting to run out of people to infect. For the week ending Saturday, 82% of estimated coronavirus cases nationwide were subvariant BA.5, a breathtaking rate of growth; just two months ago, BA.5 accounted for less than 3% of estimated cases. And unlike the national wave dominated by the BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 sub-variants, which jumped straight into the wave powered by BA.5, there doesn’t seem to be an easily visible successor to BA.5, At least for the moment.

Hospitalizations

Improving its hospital metrics could also cause the county to reconsider the timing of a mask order.

“If we see a sustained decrease in cases, or if the rate of hospital admissions approaches the middle threshold, we will suspend the implementation of universal indoor masking while we closely monitor our transmission rates,” Ferrer said Tuesday.

On July 20, 1,329 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized across the county. That total dipped to 1,200 on Friday before rising over the weekend to 1,286 on Monday.

Dr Christina Ghaly, director of county health services, said she was not worried that one of the county’s four public hospitals could be overwhelmed. But, due to the high level of community transmission, she said a number of staff were infected and unable to work.

“In hospitals, that means beds are closed or it may take longer to be seen in an emergency department,” she said. “There are a number of ways in which there is an impact on the facilities.”

Deaths

LA County’s weekly coronavirus death rate is starting to climb again.

As of Tuesday, LA County was recording 106 COVID-19 deaths per week, a 23% week-over-week increase. A month ago, there were 50 deaths per week.

The weekly per capita death rate for LA County – 105 deaths per week for 10 million people – is 67% worse than that of the San Francisco Bay Area, which reports 63 deaths per week for 10 million people. ‘inhabitants.

The Case for Mask Rules

Public health officials largely characterize face coverings as a low-impact way to help reduce transmission in indoor settings, where the risk of spreading the coronavirus is typically higher. The LA County and California Public Health Departments strongly recommend residents wear face coverings when indoors in public.

But during times of high transmission, Ferrer said it made sense to consider a requirement — which he believed would protect not just patrons and customers, but also the county workforce and residents. the most vulnerable.

Ferrer said she hopes that if a mask order is reinstated, many residents will adhere to it. She said the rules would require businesses to post signs informing the public of the requirement to wear a mask, but the health department would not ask employees to enforce the rules.

Some officials don’t know what it is. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she was struck by “the return of a number – although not a really significant number – of sorts of snowflake tears about how oppressive it is to wear a mask”.

The Case Against Mask Rules

But other supervisors said LA should avoid another term.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Tuesday she was adamantly opposed to re-ordering masks “because I really believe it’s going to have the opposite effect.”

In an open letter on Monday, Barger wrote that she believes such orders are polarizing, unenforceable, and “actually detract from our collective efforts to reduce COVID-19 infection rates.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn said her preference would be to stay aligned with the state, which strongly recommends — but does not require — masking indoors in public.

If a mandate is implemented, she suggested it initially be more limited, perhaps only covering places like grocery stores and pharmacies.

“Local businesses I know have told my office they’re worried about having to enforce this mask mandate when so much of the public is against it,” Hahn said. “They just don’t feel like the reason they got into a small business was, in some way, to fight with their customers.”

Maria Salinas, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and Jessica Lall, President and CEO of Central City Assn., a downtown business group, also recently sent a letter to Ferrer expressing their concerns.

Requiring masks, they wrote, “puts employees in the increasingly difficult position of enforcing a mandate that many customers no longer want – or do not want – to respect.”

Beverly Hills officials said they would not use city resources to enforce a mask mandate if LA County decides to issue one. Additionally, Long Beach and Pasadena — which have their own public health departments — said they would not immediately follow LA County if it imposes a mandate this week.

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