L.A. County will require masks indoors amid alarming rise in coronavirus cases

Faced with a distressing rise in coronavirus cases, Los Angeles County will again require residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces — regardless of their vaccination status.

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, according to the county’s health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis.

Some exceptions will apply, Davis said, but the order will be similar to the requirements that were in place prior to California’s 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,” Davis told reporters Thursday.

L.A. County has seen a steep increase in coronavirus cases of late. During the weeklong period that ended Wednesday, the county reported an average of 1,077 new cases each day — a 261% hike from two weeks prior, according to data compiled by The Times.

On Thursday, Davis reported 1,537 additional cases.

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 — most of which were able a month ago to shed coronavirus-related restrictions.

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.

The renewed restrictions in L.A. County, the nation’s most populous, are a blow both to the region’s effort to recover economically from the pandemic and a populace eager to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.

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.”

Statewide guidance on face coverings remains unchanged, according to the California Department of Public Health. However, the department “supports local health departments, like Los Angeles County, making stricter policies based on the conditions in their community.”

“Vaccines remain the best protection against COVID-19, including the highly infectious Delta variant,” officials wrote in a statement to The Times. “We urge all eligible to get vaccinated, as it is the most important thing we can do to stop the spread of the virus.”

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