The Delta variant of COVID-19 is wearing the city of Los Angeles out!
Despite Los Angeles County and the rest of California completely re-opening a month ago, COVID-19 is back and the county is re-issuing a mask mandate.
Starting Saturday night, residents will again be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of their vaccination status.
via LA Times:
The latest order not only puts the county further at odds with both the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — both of which continue to maintain that vaccinated people need not cover their faces indoors — but puts officials in the precarious position of asking the inoculated to forfeit one of the benefits recently enjoyed.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” said Dr. Muntu Davis, the county’s health officer.
The new order, which comes a little more than two weeks after the county recommended the same protocols as a precaution, will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday — and Davis said it will be similar to the requirements that were in place before the June 15 reopening.
“We’re not where we need to be for the millions at risk of infection here in Los Angeles County, and waiting to do something will be too late given what we’re seeing now,” he told reporters Thursday.
The order will continue to allow indoor restaurant dining, although people will need to keep their masks on when they’re not eating or drinking.
It will apply everywhere in the county except Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own independent health departments. Both cities said Thursday that they already recommend everyone, even the fully vaccinated, wear masks in crowded indoor settings, though Pasadena is “reviewing options for a mandate,” according to a spokeswoman.
L.A. County’s rise in community transmission has accelerated dramatically since California fully reopened on June 15. For the week-long period that ended that day, L.A. County averaged 173 new coronavirus cases a day.
For the seven-day period that ended Wednesday, the county’s average was 1,077 new cases a day. On Thursday, Davis reported 1,537 additional cases.
Countywide COVID-19 hospitalizations doubled over that same time frame — from 223 on June 15 to 452 as of Wednesday.
Still, cases and hospitalizations are still more than 93% below what they were at the peak of the winter surge. And deaths remain at historically low levels, at an average of about seven a day.
An uptick in cases, combined with the presence of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus, was behind L.A. County’s urging in late June that all residents wear masks in public indoor spaces.
Cases have increased rapidly since then, and county health officials now believe more direct intervention is needed.
Davis said he expects the new order will remain “in place until we begin to see improvements” in community transmission.
He characterized universal indoor masking as one of the more effective ways to curb the spread without interrupting operations at businesses and venues.
But, he acknowledged, further intervention could be necessary if conditions deteriorate.
“Anything is on the table if things continue to get worse, which is why we want to take action now,” he said.
He emphasized, though, that the increase in cases is overwhelmingly taking place among those who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Data show that those who have completed their inoculation course remain well protected — including against the Delta variant, which is believed to be twice as transmissible as the conventional coronavirus strains.
Between Dec. 7 and June 7, the unvaccinated accounted for 99.6% of L.A. County’s coronavirus cases, 98.7% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 99.8% of deaths.
The vaccines are also believed to be essentially as effective against the Delta variant as other variants. During June, 86% of people diagnosed with the Delta variant in L.A. County were not fully vaccinated — in the same range as the Alpha variant, where 91% of people diagnosed were not fully vaccinated; the Gamma variant, 92%; and all other variants, 89%.
But officials suspect that unvaccinated people have stopped wearing masks in indoor public settings and businesses, even though they’re still required to do so. Fully vaccinated people were previously allowed to largely shed their face coverings, with some exceptions, such as on public transit.
The new mask order, Davis said, “really is about making this a universal practice. It’s the easiest thing to do in terms of ensuring that we’re all protected, regardless of the risks that we have.”
Still, the renewed restrictions in L.A. County are undoubtedly a blow to a populace eager to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.
“It is clear that the Delta variant is here and spreading rapidly, overwhelmingly in our unvaccinated communities, and we need to take action now before we see uncontrollable spread,” Hilda Solis, chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors, said in a statement.
She added, “This is only a temporary action, until we can lower our cases and continue getting more people the doses they need.”
But with similar increases across the state, other counties are also urging residents to take additional precautions.
This week, health officials in Sacramento and Yolo counties issued similar calls for all their residents to wear masks in indoor public settings, though neither has made that mandatory.
“The drastic increase in cases is concerning — as is the number of people choosing not to get vaccinated,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Olivia Kasirye said in a statement. “Our best protection against COVID-19 continues to be the vaccine. We urge all eligible residents to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves, and their family and friends.”
Do your part. Get vaccinated. The Delta variant isn’t anything to play around with — especially heading into the holiday season.