Throughout the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, and especially over the past year, Florida has been defined by its increasingly lax COVID-19 policies and procedures. However, as respiratory illness continues to ravage the country this flu season, Los Angeles County on the opposite end of the country—the largest county in the U.S.—is instead firming up their stance on COVID-19. As of Dec. 2, reinstating indoor mask mandates has been put back on the table, nearly three full years since national lockdowns were first instituted.
An ABC News article reports that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have continued to rise in the area, and LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has declared the county to have reached “medium” COVID-19 transmissions levels—as in, the weekly positive rate was 185 per 100,000 residents. If the county reaches the “high” category—200 per 100,000 residents—indoor face coverings will become required.
Additionally, and according to the LA Times, a new mandate could come into effect if 10% of all staffed inpatient hospital beds in LA County are filled with patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, something that has only happened for a sustained period twice before during the pandemic. 6.8% of hospital beds in the county are being used by COVID-19 positive patients as of Dec. 8.
According to the LA County Daily COVID-19 data tracker, 1,986 new daily cases were reported on Dec. 12. It is possible that the real count is higher, as this data tracker does not report results from those using at-home rapid tests and does not account for those who may not be testing at all.
“There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID-19 is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID-19 is still with us,” Ferrer said during a Dec. 1 press conference.
“Given both the increases in hospitalizations and the lack of certainty in the winter trajectory for COVID-19, continuing some common-sense 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,” she continued.
In the meantime, 73% of the approximately 10 million residents of LA County are fully vaccinated, 81% have received at least one dose and 43% have received at least one booster. With this in mind, some national experts are criticizing LA County for the proposed reinstatement of indoor mask mandates, calling them unnecessary.
“Three years in, there is little evidence that mask mandates have had a significant impact on [COVID-19] case rates,” Dr. Margery Smelkinson, an infectious-disease scientist who specializes in influenza and COVID-19 told the New York Post. “Considering this unimpressive track record, it is perplexing that many health officials are willing to return to mask mandates.”
As of Dec. 9, LA County’s Public Health department has issued a statement asking that everyone ages two and older wear a mask indoors—although whether a legitimate mandate is on the horizon is still up for debate. With an uncertain winter ahead of them, LA County’s next move could be indicative of how much we’re truly left the coronavirus pandemic behind.