County to follow state guidelines on face masks

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who last week called on the governor to immediately align the state with relaxed federal COVID-19 guidelines on mask-wearing, said May 18 she supports the decision to wait until June 15, but she lamented mixed messaging from federal and local authorities.

“My response and the request to the governor was because there is frustration that’s been expressed by many individuals, including myself, regarding inconsistencies at the federal, state and local levels,” Barger said during the weekly Board of Supervisors meeting. “I just believe that we need to have consistency.

“And when the president and the vice president stand up and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] make that announcement … I just think it’s important for us to be transparent in terms of what is driving issues surrounding wearing masks and not wearing masks,” she said.

Barger praised state officials for saying the decision to wait until June 15 to lift mask mandates was based on the time needed to get more people vaccinated and develop guidelines for businesses once mandates are lifted.

“The politics versus the science need to be distinguished, because the issue that CDC brought up is based on science. And I’m completely in line with the June 15 date, because that is not, again, based on science, it’s based on what the state feels is a proper time that they need to get things like ‘how are we going to verify vaccinations’ and getting vaccinations into people’s arms.”

Barger questioned county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer about the danger to fully vaccinated people if they intermingle with non-vaccinated people who aren’t wearing masks. Ferrer responded by stating that for a fully vaccinated person, “You’ve got like a suit of armor on, frankly.”

“The problem is that we have no way of knowing in these groups who’s vaccinated and who’s not right now,” she said. “And if you have a lot of people intermingling — and as I noted 50% of them are not fully vaccinated — and there are people who are infected there who are not wearing their masks and they’re not fully vaccinated, they will spread it to other people who are not yet vaccinated. And that for all of us creates risk.

“The more this virus gets transmitted, the more it can mutate,” she said. “And the more it mutates, the more we have a risk of seeing some other new variant of concern, and perhaps that new variant of concern not only is capable of rapidly infecting more people, but also maybe our vaccines don’t work so well against that variant of concern.”

She noted that since there is no vaccine-verification process, unvaccinated people could simply take advantage of relaxed rules and shed their masks, risking more spread of the virus.

In the state and L.A. County, face coverings are not required outdoors for fully vaccinated people except at crowded events, and — for unvaccinated people — when physical distancing cannot be maintained. In indoor settings outside the home including public transportation, businesses and schools, face coverings continue to be required regardless of vaccination status.

The CDC revised its guidance last week, saying fully vaccinated people can largely stop wearing a mask in most indoor and outdoor situations. But that guidance does not usurp local and state regulations.

Some national chains, including Trader Joe’s, Costco and Walmart, have dropped the mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers in response to the CDC announcement, although store officials said they will not be asking for proof of vaccination.

Ferrer said May 17 the chains should have only lifted the requirements in those states where the mask mandate has been lifted, and not in California.

“I’m frankly surprised at Trader Joe’s for going against what their national office is saying,” Ferrer said. “This is going to be pretty easy for businesses and customers, residents and visitors to understand, because there’s one standard for the whole state, and it requires that we continue to wear our masks until June 15.”

She added that health department officials would be “out and about” this week to communicate clearly that the mask requirement was still in effect.

Weekly statistics released by the state May 18 showed the county’s average daily rate of new COVID-19 infections had fallen to 1.2 per 100,000 residents, down from 1.4 per 100,000 last week. The average rate of people testing positive for the virus slipped to 0.6%, down from 0.7% a week ago.

On May 17, Los Angeles County reported 161 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths, with those relatively low numbers reflecting reporting delays over the weekend.

According to state figures, there were 352 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of May 18. Of those patients, 79 were in intensive care.

The latest figures brought the county’s totals to 1,237,561 cases and 24,097 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

As of May 14, 15,727 teens aged 12-15 had been vaccinated, 3% of county residents in that age group. And 95,396 teens aged 16 and 17 have received at least one dose of vaccine — or 38% of that age group.

Ferrer also touted the county’s community initiatives to get teenagers vaccinated. Those include pop-up clinics at 200 Los Angeles Unified School District sites. Of existing school-based clinics, 82% are in so-called “low-resource” ZIP codes, officials said.

 

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