“Who didn’t see this coming?”
"Only a matter of time before we're in a lockdown again."
“Thanks to all the unvaccinated people pretending to be vaxxed.”
Those were some reactions on social media to LA County’s new requirement that even fully vaccinated residents must mask up again in most indoor settings.
LA’s new rule is stricter than state guidelines. But health officials say bold action is needed. LA County's daily coronavirus cases have exploded since June 15, when the state reopened. The LA Department of Public Health tweeted that “COVID-19 test positivity rate increased by 700% in just one month — jumping from 0.5% to 3.7%.”
KCRW speaks with Dr. Oliver T. Brooks, chief medical officer at Watts Healthcare, about how some medical workers are feeling about this new spike in cases.
KCRW: Do you think the revamped mask mandate in LA County will be effective?
Oliver T. Brooks: “We opened up on June 15, and here we are buttoned up on July 15. During that period of time, the number of cases went up sixfold. The rates are really, really low compared to what we were at our peak. But that's just by comparison. We're moving in the wrong direction.
… There are only two things we can do to turn around the rise in rates: increase vaccination coverage or increase infection control measures.
… I do believe that [the new mask mandate] will work. But we will find out as we monitor those seven day averages of hospitalizations, case rates.”
Do you think the new health order goes far enough and do you think we lifted restrictions too soon?
“This whole response to the pandemic was like building a plane while you're flying it. I do think that it was reasonable to open up. I mean, this is the summer. Theoretically, if you were vaccinated, you got a reward for being vaccinated.
For unvaccinated people, this is no change. They were still supposed to be wearing a mask indoors, and they still obviously will have to.
… It's hard to say if they [new order] should have gone far enough, or we should go [farther] in terms of getting back to physical distancing. I think it is reasonable to be incremental. We will find out if the case rates keep going up, we will institute more measures.
… You don't wait until a fire has burned a quarter of your house. As soon as you see a spark … you act. That is what's happening right now. We have to trust our county health officials. They have our best interests at heart.”
What needs to be done now to convince unvaccinated people to roll up their sleeves?
“I think incentives work. I think that we need to be persistent. … Just keep working the way we do by offering vaccines at various sites and various venues, continue it to be free.
And then you have to approach it on a personal level. The choice not to vaccinate is not a scientific decision. It is an emotional, psychological decision. And we have to address these people one at a time, if that's what it takes. … In California, 52% are fully vaccinated, 60% have at least one dose … 40% have not had any dose.”
Some vaccinated people are expressing frustration that the unvaccinated are driving up coronavirus infections. Do medical workers share that sentiment?
“I will say, in a measured way, it has been very bothersome and annoying. Let's say … someone's hospitalized for COVID-19, there's a 98% chance that they're unvaccinated. When you go to see people with COVID, you have to [wear a] glove, gown, mask. Wash your hands. It's a hassle taking care of people with COVID.
If I'm going to the hospital to see pregnant moms or newly delivered babies with their mothers who are COVID-19 positive … I gotta gown, glove, mask. I gotta have anxiety. Did I do something wrong? Did I touch something? Did my glove break? So it's just harder to do. And it is fully preventable. … I wouldn’t say resentment. The term I would use would be frustration.”
Do you think other Southern California counties like OC should bring back the mask mandate?
“I would definitely say yes. LA County did it with 50% of us vaccinated as the case rates are going up. In Orange County and other areas, if they are seeing the same data that we see here, the same action should occur.”