With COVID-19 infections rising quickly, L.A. County eyes return to indoor mask mandate

A man wears his mask as he walks past a sign posted on a storefront reminding people to wear masks, on February 25, 2022 in Los Angeles, - Los Angeles ends its indoor mask mandate on February 25 for the fully vaccinated and can show proof. The wearing of masks indoors remains for the unvaccinated and fail to show proof of a negative test. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
A man wears his mask as he walks past a sign posted on a storefront reminding people to wear masks, on February 25, 2022 in Los Angeles, - Los Angeles ends its indoor mask mandate on February 25 for the fully vaccinated and can show proof. The wearing of masks indoors remains for the unvaccinated and fail to show proof of a negative test. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

As early as this week, residents of Los Angeles County could be required to wear face masks in public buildings in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Over the last three days alone, 10,089 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the county along with 29 deaths, according to Los Angeles Public Health.

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Last week, the COVID-19 infection rate for L.A. County was at 185 cases per 100,000 residents, a level designated as “medium.” If it exceeds 200 cases per 100,000 residents, a “high” level of transmission, the mask mandate will automatically go back into effect.

“There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us,” County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a press conference on Thursday.

With “medium” rates of transmission, health authorities “strongly recommend” but do not require indoor masking, though masks are still mandatory at health care facilities.

When L.A. County considered reinstating a mask mandate in July, Ferrer said that it could include “all indoor spaces, including shared office spaces, manufacturing facilities, retail stores and at indoor events.”

That announcement was not well received, and several municipalities in the L.A. area announced they wouldn’t comply with the mandate.

Los Angeles, CA - September 22: Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced Los Angeles County on Friday will end its local health order requiring masking while aboard public transit or inside transportation hubs, such as airports.on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Los Angeles, CA. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles, CA - September 22: Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced Los Angeles County on Friday will end its local health order requiring masking while aboard public transit or inside transportation hubs, such as airports.on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Los Angeles, CA. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Social media users have also sounded off in opposition to the latest warnings that a mask mandate could soon be reimposed.

“If LA County plows ahead with another mask mandate, it will truly be the definition of insanity,” tweeted Kevin Kiley, a Republican congressman-elect in Northern California.

Andy Kleinman, another Twitter user, said: “Spent a week in Qatar surrounded by thousands of people from all over the world, and I saw almost zero masks. Came back to LA and they are suggesting a mandatory indoor mask mandate again. They want us to live in fear. It is insane.”

Top health officials in L.A. stand by the effectiveness of masking to cut the spread of COVID-19 and continue to urge citizens to stay up to date on vaccination for the virus that has so far killed more than 34,213 people in the county and more than 1 million people nationwide.

Los Angeles, CA - December 02: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Nurse Yessica Carrillo administers a COVID-19 booster to Miguel Torres during the  Los Angeles Comic Con at the Los Angeles Convention Center Friday, Dec 2, 2022. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health partnered with Los Angeles Comic Con to provide ticketed guests and staff with free vaccinations of both the updated COVID-19 booster and influenza vaccine. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)
Los Angeles, CA - December 02: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Nurse Yessica Carrillo administers a COVID-19 booster to Miguel Torres during the Los Angeles Comic Con at the Los Angeles Convention Center Friday, Dec 2, 2022. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health partnered with Los Angeles Comic Con to provide ticketed guests and staff with free vaccinations of both the updated COVID-19 booster and influenza vaccine. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

In September, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention approved a new booster targeting both the original strain of the virus and the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants. Since then, two new subvariants — BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 — have become the dominant strains in the U.S. The vaccine manufacturers say their boosters also work against the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 subvariants.

Ferrer, meanwhile, says she understands that a return to a mask mandate won’t be popular with many in the public but insists that may be needed anyway.

“Given both the increases in hospitalizations and the lack of certainty in the winter trajectory for COVID-19, continuing some commonsense mitigation strategies that we know work to limit transmission and illness, including masking and being up to date on vaccines and boosters, remains a very sensible approach,” Ferrer added at her Thursday press briefing.