With a decision expected tomorrow on whether Los Angeles County will re-impose an indoor mask-wearing mandate due to the rise in cases from the more infectious BA.5 variant, the city of El Segundo today added its name to the list of local cities that will decline to enforce such a rule if it is implemented by the county.
“My City Council colleagues and I strongly believe the decision to wear a mask should be the choice of the individual and should not be imposed by L.A. County,” El Segundo Mayor Drew Boyles said in a statement. “Individuals should review the data available and consider their own circumstances and make their own decisions about wearing a mask. Businesses need to consider the various agencies that regulate their businesses as part of deciding how they will react to a potential change to mask requirements.”
The council voted during a special meeting Tuesday night against enforcing a possible mask order.
The Beverly Hills City Council cast a similar vote Monday night, saying it will not enforce any new mask mandate. Ironically, in 2020 Beverly Hills was among the first cities in L.A. County to institute an outdoor mask mandate. City officials decreed that everyone had to sport some type of face covering whenever they left their homes.
The cities of Long Beach and Pasadena — both of which operate their own health departments separate from the county and so actually have the authority to decide on their own health officer orders — announced Tuesday they will not issue mask mandates, even if the county does.
“The [Long Beach] Health Department strongly encourages people to practice personal responsibility and common-sense measures to protect themselves, their loved ones and the greater community from Covid-19,” according to a statement from Long Beach. “People are advised to mask indoors when in public places, conduct rapid testing before and three to five days after social gatherings and choose outdoor activities where possible.”
Both Long Beach and Pasadena officials said they would continue to monitor the Covid situation. Pasadena officials said they would “consider appropriate public health actions to protect our community as the situation changes.”
The county Department of Public Health is expected to announce Thursday whether a new mask mandate will be imposed beginning Friday.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said the mandate will be imposed if the county remains in the “high’” virus-activity level — as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — for two consecutive weeks. The county will reach that two-week threshold on Thursday.
The county moved into the high category when the average daily rate of new Covid-related hospital admissions reached a rate of 10 per 100,000 residents. As of last Thursday, the county’s rate was up to 11.7 per 100,000 residents.
Covid infection and hospital numbers had been stabilizing and even decreasing over the past week and a half. Ferrer said last week — and reiterated Tuesday — that if the downward trends continue, the county may hold off on imposing a new mask mandate.
She told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that, given recent declines, “We may be positioned to pause the implementation of universal masking.”
Ferrer said on Tuesday that most pandemic-tracking metrics were down, noting that the average daily rate of new cases over the past week had fallen to about 6,100, down from 6,700 the prior week. Virus-related hospitalizations had also stabilized, she said, as well as the daily number of fatalities — although she stressed that the latter number remained too high at about 14 fatalities per day.
But on Wednesday, the numbers jumped up again. The number of newly reported Covid cases more than doubled from Tuesday, when it was just over 3,500, to just over 7,300. The rise follows a familiar pattern seen in recent weeks, which may have given false hope at the beginning of the week: Because testing and test results are slow over the weekend, Sunday-Tuesday numbers are often much lower. But once the backlog clears, the daily case numbers generally rise significantly each day through Saturday. Ferrer has also cautioned that, because the results of home tests are not reported, the current daily tallies are likely a “vastly undercounted.”
Test positivity, which as a percentage of total cases and 7-day average is often more accurate, also jumped up again. After falling by nearly a point to just above 14% yesterday, the numbers have been recalibrated, with most of the week in the low 15% range and Wednesday’s number rising to 16.2%.
Covid-realted hospitalizations are up just slightly from Monday to about 1,280, but that’s down compared to 1,329 last Thursday. But, as Ferrer cautioned last week, if daily cases are rising, hospitalizations will almost certainly follow suit two weeks later, making the logic for pausing a mask mandate more difficult for officials.
Deaths were up significantly today, too, from 5 on Monday to 20 today. The latter number is in line with those seen late last week.
Los Angeles County is the only jurisdiction in the state considering a masking mandate, even though all but eight of its counties are also in the CDC’s “high” virus-activity level.
While Ferrer has defended the idea of a mandate — calling it a proven and simple tool for slowing transmission of the virus and protecting workers in indoor businesses — opposition to the concept has been rising.
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement Monday saying she will not support a mandate. She said she agrees that masks are an effective tool against virus spread, but does not believe imposing a mandate will have the desired effect.
“I am adamantly opposed to mandating the masking, because I truly do believe it’s going to have the opposite effect,” Barger said during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Supervisor Janice Hahn joined her in opposing a possible mandate, saying she fears imposing such a rule “will be very divisive for L.A. County.” The two were also the dissenting voices before mask mandates were lifted in January.
“I honestly believe there are a significant number of the population who are not willing to accept mask mandates at this point,” Hahn said. “And many of them, the ones that have contacted me, pointed out that we do have more tools now than we had at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Personally I’m worried … that we’re losing the trust this time of a portion of the public that’s actually been with us up to this point,” she said.
Hahn suggested that the county consider simply expanding the list of places where masks are still required to include grocery stores and pharmacies, rather than all indoor spaces. Ferrer said her department would consider the idea.
City News Service contributed to this report.