As BA.2 spreads, how likely will LA reinstate mandates for masks and vax proof?

By Jenna Kagel

“We should appreciate and be grateful for the fact that we live in a resource-rich country. And as much as I think we all like to complain, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to get another booster,’ it's pretty quick. People have relatively mild side effects, if they have any side effects at all. And it gives you some durable protection for a few months,” says Barbara Ferrer. Photo by Shutterstock.

The Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is spreading in LA County and believed to be more infectious than the original, which caused a winter surge in LA and overwhelmed local hospitals.

Barbara Ferrer, director of LA County’s Department of Public Health, talks about what to expect in the next few weeks, how to prepare, and what new developments are helping fight COVID-19.

Will there be an uptick in cases and hospitalizations in the near future?

Ferrer says the virus is unpredictable, and she’s looking to China, Australia, Europe, and Russia to learn what is happening there and how LA can best prepare for a possible uptick in numbers. LA is seeing incremental case increases, but that may partly be due to some relaxed safety measures. 

What is the contingency plan to reinstate mask mandates or proof of vaccinations if another wave hits LA?

LA County’s website has a post-surge plan that lays out conditions for reintroducing safety protections. But, Ferrer explains, some of them will be site-specific. 

“If you start seeing, for example, a lot more outbreaks at places like nursing homes, we're going to want to go back to requiring that visitors are all vaccinated, or they've had a recent negative test result. We're going to go back to making sure everyone is masked with high-quality, high-grade respirator masks.” 

The same would apply to schools if lots of outbreaks happen there. Ferrer adds that if BA.2 or another variant evades vaccine protections even more than Omicron has, “then masks might be important for everybody to put back on.” 

“As much as we've grown to hate these masks, it's really not such a big deal to wear a mask when you go indoors,” she says. “And this is particularly important for people who are more vulnerable. … who are immunocompromised, people who have serious underlying health conditions, people who are just older, people who didn't get boosted yet, people who haven't gotten vaccinated at all yet.”

You’re eligible for a fourth vaccine shot if you’re age 12+ and at higher risk of infection, or if you’re age 50 and up. But what do you say to someone who’s already boosted and tired of getting jabbed every few months?

Ferrer explains that the COVID vaccine is similar to many other vaccines where you need multiple doses, and in the U.S., residents are lucky to have access to the first and second boosters, unlike other places abroad. 

“We should appreciate and be grateful for the fact that we live in a resource-rich country. And as much as I think we all like to complain, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to get another booster,’ it's pretty quick. People have relatively mild side effects, if they have any side effects at all. And it gives you some durable protection for a few months.” 

How do you address pandemic fatigue? 

As a person who works in public health, Ferrer says she really understands people’s exhaustion about COVID. 

She assures: “We're starting to roll out better access to therapeutics that's a game changer, just like home testing was a game changer. Just like having vaccinations and boosters now at 1006 sites, plus an additional 700 mobile teams every week. Those are actions that actually make a difference and they help save lives. And they also make it easier for us to do what we love while keeping safe.”

Credits

Guest:

  • Barbara Ferrer - Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health