LA dusts off a mask mandate as coronavirus cases rise again

By Evan George and Helen Jeong

Starting July 17 at 11:59 p.m., LA County will start requiring masking indoors regardless of vaccination status. Photo by Shutterstock.

Hey LA — even if you’re fully vaccinated, you’ll need to pull out your face mask again. Los Angeles County will begin requiring masking indoors regardless of vaccination status starting at 11:59 p.m. this Saturday, July 17. 

It’s deja vu, thanks in part to the Delta variant and stalled vaccination rates. 

Public health officials pointed the finger at the region’s continued rise in coronavirus infections when they made the unexpected announcement at a virtual press conference today. LA County has reported more than 1,000 cases every day for the past week, including 1,537 new infections on Thursday. 

"It's an all-hands-on-deck moment," said Dr. Muntu Davis, the county’s health officer. “The increases have been substantial over a short period of time. We were at a low-level of community transmission when we entered into reopening, and now we're up to a substantial level based on CDC standards, in terms of community transmission.”

The vast majority of infections are among unvaccinated individuals, according to the Department of Public Health. Earlier this week, health officials said every single patient hospitalized in LA County had “not yet been fully vaccinated” and county leaders again pleaded with people to get one of the COVID vaccines. 

So what will the new rules look like? 

Masks will be required at most indoor locations. There will be some exceptions, similar to the rules that were in place before California’s economy re-opened more than a month ago. 

Here’s one example: When dining out, you can take off your mask while eating. But when you're waiting indoors and outdoors to be seated, you must keep the mask on. The full rules will be posted at LA County’s Department of Public Health’s website by Friday, Davis said. 

Unvaccinated residents have been required to wear a mask indoors even after the state reopening, though enforcement has been rare. Davis said health officers will now "go out to educate the public," but he would not say how or if the county will strictly enforce the mandate with citations. 

Could more restrictions be on the way? Davis said, "Everything is on the table."

Meanwhile, the City of Long Beach, which has its own health department, is set to bring back the mask requirement at 11:59 p.m. Saturday in alignment with LA County — after seeing a 288% increase in average daily COVID-19 cases this month.  

The City of Pasadena, also with its own public health agency, tells KCRW its City Council will consider the reinstatement of the mask requirement on Monday.