Rise in L.A. County coronavirus cases as mask rules set to begin

Los Angeles County recorded more than 1,900 new coronavirus cases Friday, another major jump, as a mandatory mask restriction for inside public places takes effect Saturday night.

Over the last week, L.A. County has reported an average of more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day — a tally that, though merely a fraction of the sky-high counts seen during previous surges, is still six times as high as what the county was seeing in mid-June.

Daily case numbers have jumped: 1,537 new cases were reported Thursday, and 1,902 more were added Friday.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also doubled over that same time period, from 223 on June 15 to 462 on Thursday. More than 8,000 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized countywide during the darkest days of the winter wave.

Requiring masks for all, officials said, provides even more protection to those who are vaccinated while simultaneously ensuring that unvaccinated people can no longer skirt indoor face covering requirements.

Each infection prevented, experts say, is one less chance for the coronavirus to mutate in potentially dangerous ways — as happened with the Delta variant.

Under the county’s order, effective 11:59 p.m. Saturday, masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public settings, such as theaters, stores, gyms, offices and workplaces, and in restaurants when not eating and drinking. Those exempted include children younger than 2.

Public indoor spaces will be affected, such as theaters, stores, public venues and shopping malls. The mask rules will essentially revert to what they were before the county lifted them for the June 15 reopening. At that time, some retailers dropped their mask rules.

The order will continue to allow operations of indoor restaurant dining, but it requires people to keep their masks on while they order and while they’re waiting for food.

Though cases and hospitalizations are on the rise nationwide, officials say new infections and hospital admissions overwhelmingly involve unvaccinated people. In fact, more than 97% of patients entering hospitals nationwide with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Walensky said local policymakers might consider additional masking measures “if you have areas of low vaccination and high case rates,” at least until a community’s vaccination rates improve.

About 52% of L.A. County residents are fully vaccinated, and roughly 60% have gotten at least one shot. But given the region’s enormous population, that still leaves millions vulnerable.

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