L.A. headed for new COVID mask mandate. Will others join?

With the resurgence of the coronavirus and a rise in cases and hospitalizations, Los Angeles is poised to become the first California county to reinstate mandatory indoor public mask requirements.

If the situation sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Almost exactly a year ago, the county took the same step to combat a surge fueled by the delta variant of the coronavirus. It was the first, but it wasn’t the last. Officials in at least 20 counties — including Ventura, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and much of the San Francisco Bay Area — would eventually follow suit.

Barring conditions improving, Los Angeles County will find itself in an identical position by the end of the month: issuing a face-covering order, though no other counties appear ready to do the same at this time.

But while California grapples with another summer wave — this one fueled by the highly contagious family of Omicron subvariants, namely BA.5 — LA County will prove ahead of its time, or, some critics claim, behind the times lag time?

What would trigger the mask order?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor public masking for those ages 2 and older when a county enters the high COVID-19 community level — a designation that indicates both the transmission of Corona viruses is increasing and the spread is beginning to affect hospitals.

LA County officially entered high municipal level on Thursday. If it stays there for the next two weeks, the county will re-enact an indoor mask mandate effective July 29.

No other California county has publicly linked its placement on the CDC’s community-level scale to a renewal of masking orders. In addition to LA, 41 other districts are at the high level as of this week.

Most places recommend, but do not require, dressing up in public.

“We’re seeing a summer surge in cases and hospitalizations, and this shift to ‘high’ transmission levels confirms that,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the OC Health Care Agency, in a statement. “To protect those at high risk, we encourage residents of the OC to continue to mask themselves in public indoor spaces, particularly those who are at high risk or live with loved ones who have comorbidities, are immunocompromised, or are susceptible to being ill to become.”

Why is a mask requirement being considered?

LA is like no other county in the United States. With around 10 million residents, it is by far the most populous county in the country – home to more residents than most states.

Overcrowding, a risk factor for the spread of the coronavirus, is worse in LA County than in many other parts of the country, including the Bay Area.

Of all Southern California’s coastal counties, LA has the highest poverty rate and lowest median household income. People living in low-income areas are more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19 than people living in more affluent areas — even when vaccination status is the same.

Low-income people in LA County are important sectors of the local economy, including food production, hospitality, and tourism.

All of this means that a place like LA County can be hit disproportionately harder than neighboring places in a new wave.

“Family with fewer resources are more likely to have higher exposure at work, live in cramped quarters and have one or more chronic medical conditions compared to families with more resources,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said during a briefing on Thursday. “This puts individuals at greater risk of suffering the severe effects of COVID. As vaccination alone is not enough to address the worrying injustices we are seeing, additional efforts are needed to protect those most at risk.”

Would masks help?

Masking has been the subject of heated debate and sometimes fierce opposition throughout the pandemic. However, officials and experts largely agree that wearing a quality, well-fitting face covering offers extra protection – especially indoors or in crowded spaces.

“There is a broad consensus in the scientific community that wearing a quality mask in indoor public spaces is an important tool in controlling the spread of COVID-19. [It] prevents you from getting infected and it prevents you from passing it on to others,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, during a recent briefing.

The masking, Ferrer said, “protects us all.”

“When infected people wear a mask, they exhale far less virus into the air than infected people who don’t wear a mask,” she said. “Masks also provide protection for the person wearing a mask by filtering viruses from the air as you breathe. Having everyone in the room masked increases security as there are fewer viruses circulating and there is less chance of a circulating virus penetrating the physical barrier.”

healthcare

Ferrer said the rationale for ordering a mask at a time of high hospitalization rates is similar to the sensible collective action being taken to reduce other public safety risks, such as: B. Regulations to limit alcohol consumption by drivers and the requirement for seat belts.

“The reality is that because we live with a mutating SARS-CoV-2 virus, there is uncertainty about the course of this pandemic,” Ferrer said. “We should not be content with existing high morbidity and mortality rates, which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable.”

While the versions of the coronavirus currently in circulation tend to cause less severe symptoms, they are not benign. As Ferrer noted, “There is no way to predict with any degree of certainty whether, if you do get infected, you will be among the luckier ones who end up with mild illness or one of those who end up with serious illness.”

And just as no one can guarantee they won’t be at long-term risk, neither can they predict the potential health effects should they spread the virus to others – particularly those at higher risk.

“I think we owe it to one another to do whatever we can to reduce that exposure, and to really acknowledge that people who are either older, have serious health conditions, or have more exposures are disproportionately affected, which tends to affect people.” who are … our key employees,” Ferrer said.

Health care implications

As of Thursday, LA County hospitals were treating 1,223 coronavirus-positive patients — double the number a month ago.

Inpatient hospital units are not reporting that they are overwhelmed, and the total number of patients falls far short of numbers reported during previous waves of the pandemic. But other facilities, including emergency rooms, emergency centers and community clinics, “are telling us they’re feeling very tight,” Ferrer said.

“They are understaffed because many of their staff have contracted COVID and are absent, and they also have many of their patients who, while not requiring hospitalization, require medical care and that causes some stress as well.”

Vaccinations and anti-COVID drugs have made it less likely that large numbers of patients will need intensive care during this spike, Ferrer said. But she added: “We also have a lot of unknowns with BA.5 and everything else that comes our way. What is going on in our hospitals could change.”

“Waiting until hospitals are overwhelmed is way too late to do much about slowing transmission,” she said. “Actually, the time to slow transmission is when you start to see signs your hospitals are becoming more busy.”

Weekly COVID-19 deaths in LA County have doubled over the past month, with officials reporting 100 deaths a week. The weekly high during the first Omicron surge last fall and winter was more than 500.

What kind of mask should I wear?

The most effective masks are the N95, KN95 and KF94 respirators. You should not double-mask with a respirator.

Another type, but with a lesser degree of effectiveness, is a surgical mask, also known as a medical mask, which has a looser fit and is sometimes referred to as a blue mask because of its tinted color. They can be made more effective by placing a cloth mask over the surgical mask.

“This helps keep the edges of the medical mask against your face and creates a better seal,” Ferrer said.

When higher quality masks were in short supply, cloth masks with at least three layers were seen as a better option than thinner cloth masks. But it’s now clear that even three-layer cloth masks offer minimal protection, according to Ferrer. Bandanas, alligators, and thin cloth masks are not effective in filtering out the virus.

“While [cloth masks are] better than not wearing a mask, as we have a highly transferrable array of variants floating around, upgrading your mask makes a huge difference in the level of protection,” Ferrer said.

Masks should be worn over both the nose and mouth, and disposable masks and respirators should be discarded if they get wet or dirty.

“For people who are unable to wear a mask due to a disability or medical condition, face shields with curtains that go under the chin and fasten at the bottom edge can provide additional protection,” Ferrer said.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-15/l-a-headed-for-new-covid-mask-mandate-will-others-join L.A. headed for new COVID mask mandate. Will others join?

Alley Einstein

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