County officials hope to avoid new mask mandate

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths continue to show signs of stabilizing locally, Los Angeles County’s health director said July 26, adding that if the trend continues the county might pause plans to reimpose a universal indoor mask-wearing mandate later this week.

Speaking to the Board of Supervisors, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she was “relieved” to report a continued drop in the average daily number of new infections being reported, with the past seven days seeing roughly 6,100 new cases daily, down from 6,700 the previous week.

She also noted a stabilization in virus-related hospitalizations and deaths, with an average of 14 fatalities per day being reported — a number that she stressed remains too high.

But she said that, given the steady declines that have been recorded in virus metrics over the past week and a half, “We may be positioned to pause the implementation of universal masking.” Such a determination will not be made until July 28, when updated hospital admission rates are released.

Ferrer said earlier a new indoor mask mandate would be imposed July 29 if the county remains in the “high” virus activity category — with a new daily virus-related hospital admission rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents. That number as of July 21 was 11.7 per 100,000.

Ferrer said July 26 that if the county is at least approaching the 10 per 100,000 residents level by July 28, it would “trigger a reassessment on the need to reimplement an indoor masking mandate.”

She stressed during her presentation, however, that transmission of COVID-19 remains high across the county, and the virus is still a leading cause of death, killing more people in the first six months of the year than drug overdoses, the flu and traffic crashes combined.

But the idea of a renewed indoor masking mandate has generated opposition, including from the Los Angeles County Business Federation last week and from county Supervisor Kathryn Barger this week, who said she believes in the effectiveness of masks, but not of mask mandates. Barger repeated July 26 that she does not believe there is any “empirical data” proving that a mask mandate will be more effective than what the county does now — which is strongly recommend masks.

“I am adamantly opposed to mandating the masking, because I truly do believe it’s going to have the opposite effect,” Barger said.

Barger earned some support from Supervisor Janice Hahn, who said she fears imposing a universal mandate “will be very divisive for L.A. County.”

“I honestly believe there are a significant number of the population who are not willing to accept mask mandates at this point,” Hahn said. “And many of them, the ones that have contacted me, pointed out that we do have more tools now than we had at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Personally I’m worried … that we’re losing the trust this time of a portion of the public that’s actually been with us up to this point,” Hahn added, noting that the city of Beverly Hills announced it will not actively enforce a new mask mandate if it is imposed.

Hahn suggested that the county consider simply expanding the list of places where masks are still required to include grocery stores and pharmacies, rather than all indoor spaces.

Masks are still mandated in indoor health care facilities, transit hubs, on transit vehicles, airports, correctional facilities and shelters. A universal mandate would spread the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared office spaces, manufacturing facilities, retail stores, indoor events, indoor restaurants and bars and schools.

Ferrer said she would give consideration to the idea of an expansion of that list rather than a mandate.

But while Ferrer conceded that a universal mask mandate might potentially be delayed based on case and hospitalization numbers, she took issue during her presentation with what she called “myths and misinformation” being circulated in the community — including the idea that masking mandates don’t work, or that there is no data to support them.

Ferrer reiterated results of studies she has cited in the past — a Pennsylvania study that found counties with mask mandates had 35% lower COVID infection numbers than those that did not; and an Arkansas study that found 23% lower case rates in school districts with mask mandates.

She also referenced numbers showing sharp increases in worksite COVID outbreaks since Los Angeles County lifted its earlier masking mandate, and an increase in outbreaks at schools when mask mandates were lifted at campuses.

In addition, she again pointed to other well-known health-related mandates — such as no-smoking laws, seat belt requirements and long-standing vaccination mandates for children to attend schools.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl lashed out at people who object to mask wearing, referring to them as “snowflake weepies.”

According to state figures, there were 1,286 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of July 26. Of those patients, 134 were being treated in intensive care.

Ferrer said roughly 3,500 new COVID cases were being reported in the county July 26.


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