Amid Surge, County Updates Indoor Mask Rules

In response to an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated individuals, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) has updated its masking policy. Starting at 11:59 p.m. on July 17, all people regardless of vaccination status must wear face coverings indoors. This will supersede the county’s former policy, which only recommended face masks indoors. 

About two weeks ago, Dr. Sam Torbati noticed a change in the number of patients coming into the Cedars-Sinai emergency room with COVID-19. For several months up until that point, the hospital saw one, maybe two infected patients a day–a welcome far cry from the city’s peak in the winter. Now, the hospital admits anywhere from seven to 15 cases. 

“We have a Delta variant that’s highly contagious, we have a lot of people engaging in activities that put them in close proximity to each other, and we have a bunch of unvaccinated people that are great hosts. The environment right now is primed for another huge wave,” . Torbati, co-chair and medical director of the Cedars-Sinai emergency department, told the Courier. On July 14, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) confirmed 1,315 new cases of COVID-19, marking the sixth consecutive day of more than 1,000 cases. Hospitalizations reported that same day rose to 398 from 275 the week before–a nearly 45% increase. All hospitalizations in county-run hospitals involve people who have not been fully vaccinated.

Of all the patients coming into the Cedars-Sinai emergency department, Dr. Torbati says “well over 95%” are unvaccinated. Most of them are also younger than in previous upticks.

Currently, 61% of eligible county residents 16 and older have received their full vaccination. Beverly Hills boasts one of the highest rates of vaccinations with 76% of those over 16 having received at least one dose. Still, this leaves millions of Angelenos unvaccinated, including 1.3 million children under 12 who cannot yet get the vaccine.

Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer has urged unvaccinated people to become vaccinated if they can. “If you are not vaccinated, consider getting your vaccination now to increase protection for you and for those who can’t be vaccinated. Wearing a face mask when the vaccination status of the people you are around is unknown can help prevent transmission. The best way to reduce your risk of infection and, if infected, serious illness from COVID-19 is to be fully vaccinated against it,” she said on July 14.  

Torbati said that shaming unvaccinated people does little to persuade them. Instead, he emphasizes the safety of the vaccines and the moral responsibility of protecting others around you. 

“It’s important for the unvaccinated population just to understand that we have an incredible amount of data on the vaccines available in the United States. They’re incredibly safe,” he said.

The message is: please protect yourself, protect your loved ones, and please help us in the scientific and medical community to put a stop to what may be another wave of very significant disease activity.” 

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