What the new LA County mask rules mean for eating, shopping
With coronavirus cases increasing dramatically among the unvaccinated, Los Angeles County has reinstated a mask mandate for indoor public spaces.
LA County becomes the first California health agency to re-require masks to be worn in public places – an acknowledgment of the sharp increase in cases over the past week.
Here are the basic details:
Does this mandate cover everyone?
Yes, masks will soon be mandatory in indoor public spaces, whether or not you are vaccinated.
Officials point out that the vaccines offer strong protection against COVID-19 infections, even the aggressive Delta variant.
The majority of new cases are among those who have not been vaccinated. Between December 7 and June 7, the unvaccinated accounted for 99.6% of LA County coronavirus cases, 98.7% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and 99.8% of deaths.
But officials suspect unvaccinated people have stopped wearing masks despite a long standing order that they continue to do so in many places.
As a result, officials hope the new order will force everyone to wear masks indoors – which they hope will slow the spread of the virus.
When does it take effect?
The new health order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday throughout Los Angeles County, except for Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments.
The two cities have already recommended that everyone, regardless of their vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places. Sacramento and Yolo counties also made the same recommendation.
What is covered?
Indoor public spaces will be affected, such as theaters, shops, public places and shopping malls. The mask rules will essentially revert to what they were before the county lifted them before the June 15 reopening. Around this time, some retailers abandoned their mask rules.
What about the meals inside?
The order will continue to allow indoor catering operations, but it requires people to keep their masks on while they order and while they wait for food.
Does the order reduce the capacity of the business?
No. The order does not require a reduction in commercial capacity or a return to mandatory physical distancing.
Why is LA County taking action?
LA County has recently seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. In the week-long period that ended Wednesday, the county reported an average of 1,077 new cases each day – a 261% increase from two weeks earlier, according to data compiled by The Times. Authorities reported an additional 1,537 cases on Thursday.
A slight increase in cases, combined with the presence of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus, was behind the LA County urging in late June that all residents wear masks in indoor public spaces. But conditions have deteriorated since then.
In recent days, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ranked LA County as having “substantial” community transmission of the coronavirus, the second worst level on a four-category scale.
Where are we with vaccinations?
Data from the Times shows that 51.8% of all Californians are fully vaccinated to date, although wide regional differences persist.
In San Diego County, it’s 57%; in Orange County, 54.7%; and in LA County, 52.2%.
Rates are much lower in Riverside County (42.1%) and San Bernardino County (39.2%).
But all of those counties, as well as the state as a whole, remain below the vaccine coverage deemed necessary to achieve “herd immunity” to the coronavirus – when sustained transmission of the virus is interrupted. Estimates for this threshold generally range from 70% to 85%.
And given the dramatic slowdown in the rate of vaccination, some of the state’s most populous counties can take months to reach that level – if they ever do.
In contrast, the San Francisco Bay Area did much better with vaccinations. San Francisco said 68.9% of its residents were fully immunized; Santa Clara County, the most populous in northern California, has 67.4% of its population fully vaccinated. These counties have so far reported relatively stable hospitalization rates, unlike Southern California, where hospitalizations are on the rise.
Will it work?
Time will tell us.
LA County health worker Dr Muntu Davis called universal indoor masking as one of the most effective ways to curb the spread of the virus without disrupting operations at businesses and sites – most of which were able a month ago to remove restrictions related to coronaviruses.
But, he acknowledged, additional intervention may be needed if conditions deteriorate.
“Everything is on the table if things continue to get worse, which is why we want to act now,” he said. “We are not where we need to be for the millions of people at risk of infection here in Los Angeles County, and waiting to do something will be too late given what we are seeing now.”