Pushback to Masks As Surge Continues

In a staggering spike, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) confirmed 2,767 new cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths on July 22–a 20-fold surge in just a month. In Beverly Hills, there have been 2,921 cases of COVID-19 and 33 deaths over the course of the pandemic. The county announced a test positivity rate of 5.26%, up from a rate of 0.7% a month ago.

The latest trends have officials alarmed, as the Delta variant continues to spread across L.A. County communities. Those who are unvaccinated are at the highest risk of getting and transmitting COVID-19, and risk severe infection. Vaccinated individuals have strong protection against the virus, including the Delta variant, and are considered low risk. 

“Because of the more infectious Delta variant and the intermingling of unmasked individuals where vaccination status is unknown, unfortunately, we are seeing a surge in cases in L.A. County that looks somewhat similar to last summer,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “An important difference this summer is that with millions of people vaccinated, we are hopeful we will avoid similar increases in deaths that were experienced last year.” 

Not all of the numbers look bad for Beverly Hills, which boasts a high rate of vaccination. Currently, nearly 77% of those 16 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The numbers lag slightly for youths between the ages of 12 and 17, less than 50% of whom have received at least one dose. 

The latest spike comes days after the county updated its mask policy, requiring face coverings be worn inside by all, regardless of vaccination status. The updated order went into place at 11:59 p.m. on July 17. Public Health is also reporting a continued increase in the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19, with 585 people currently hospitalized, 23% of which are in the ICU. Two weeks ago, there were 273 people hospitalized.

“By adding a mask requirement for everyone indoors, the risk for transmission of the virus will be reduced, and with increases in the number of people getting vaccinated, we should be able to get back to slowing the spread. Sensible masking indoors adds a layer of protection to the powerful vaccines. It is important that we work together to drive down transmission so that there will be much less community transmission when schools reopen,” Ferrer said.

Los Angeles County has taken a more proactive stance than the state or federal governments. Seven counties in the Bay Area stopped short of issuing a mandate like Los Angeles, instead recommending that everybody wear masks indoors. Other jurisdictions around the country that are seeing their own surges are following L.A.’s lead. Nevada’s Clark County, home to Las Vegas, reinstituted tougher mask guidelines after seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

In an appearance on CNBC on July 21, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he thought it unlikely that the federal government would issue any nation-wide masking rule “because there will be a lot of pushback on that.”

Indeed, Los Angeles saw immediate pushback to its own new indoor mask rule on July 18, the first full day it went into effect. A group of about 10 protesters traveled through stores in Westwood with megaphones and signs, refusing to wear masks. Two Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers trailed the group and issued orders to leave a grocery store but did not make arrests or issue any citations for violating the health order. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has flatly refused to enforce the county’s order. 

Additional reporting by Samuel Braslow

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