Los Angeles will return to mandatory mask-wearing indoors, even for people who have been vaccinated, amid a rapid and sustained increase in Covid-19 cases in the nation’s largest county.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, LA county’s public health officer, Dr Muntu Davis, said that a public health order requiring masks indoors would go into effect on Saturday.
Davis said the county had been recording more than 1,000 new cases each day for a week and that there is now “substantial community transmission”. Nearly 400 people hospitalized with Covid-19 as of Wednesday, up 275 from the week before. Nine new Covid-19 deaths were reported on Wednesday.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” he said.
Davis did not fully detail what he said would be some exceptions but said that, for example, people could still go out to eat and take off their masks only while eating and drinking.
The Los Angeles public health order follows an earlier recommendation by the county that everyone, regardless of vaccine status, should be wearing masks indoors. It also comes a month after California’s “grand reopening” saw the state roll back its major statewide Covid-19 restrictions.
Covid-19 infections in California are on the rise, with public health officials in the US west warning that the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus is fast gaining ground.
A recent outbreak of the Delta variant among vaccinated hospital workers in Las Vegas has highlighted concerns about the transmissibility of variant, particularly as vaccination rates stagnate. The Delta variant is also being blamed for troubling surges in states such as Missouri and Arkansas.
Other California counties and other states are also grappling with a spike in coronavirus cases, led by a surge in the Delta variant and predominantly affecting people who are unvaccinated.
Sacramento and Fresno counties in central California recommended on Thursday that masks be worn indoors even by people who are vaccinated. And health authorities in Austin, Texas, on Thursday urged people who are not vaccinated or are otherwise high-risk to avoid travel, indoor gatherings, dining out and shopping, and to wear masks.
“Everyone, including those who are vaccinated, should be aware of high-risk situations including being indoors, in crowds, and around unvaccinated and unmasked individuals and consider wearing a face covering in these settings,” said Dr John Zweifler, a physician with Fresno County Department of Public Health.
In Santa Rosa, a city in the state’s north, at least 59 residents at a homeless shelter tested positive this week, half of whom were vaccinated, health officials said.
Of the 59 people with confirmed infections at Samuel L Jones Hall, nine were hospitalized, including six who were fully vaccinated and had “multiple, significant” underlying health conditions, including diabetes and pulmonary disease, health officials said. Four have since been discharged and five remain hospitalized.
Vaccines decrease the severity of the illness, reduce hospitalizations and decrease the risk of death. And while breakthrough cases have occurred, health experts have said that the available vaccines provide strong protection, including against the known Covid variants.