LOS ANGELES—In the face of steadily increasing COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, Los Angeles County residents will again be required to wear masks in indoor settings beginning July 17, health officials announced.
County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said on July 15 that the county is “not where we need to be” in terms of getting the population vaccinated against the virus, as evidenced by seven straight days of new cases numbers that topped 1,000.
On July 15, the county reported 1,537 new infections, the highest number since early March.
Davis said the rate of virus spread in the county has officially risen from moderate to substantial, with infections reported to be five times more likely to occur among unvaccinated residents. The current seven-day average rate of daily new cases in the county is now at 7.1 cases per 100,000 residents.
As a result, Davis said a revised county Health Officer Order will take effect at 11:59 p.m. July 17, requiring people to wear masks in indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. The county previously only recommended such mask-wearing in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and protect unvaccinated residents.
Davis said that given the rising spread of the virus, “waiting to do something would be too late.”
Asked if the county might consider reimplementing other health restrictions—such as capacity limits and physical distancing, Davis said, “Everything is on the table if things continue to get worse.”
He said that for now, mask-wearing is the “easiest thing” for people to do to help limit the spread of the virus.
The mandate means customers will again be required to mask up when entering any indoor public establishment, including retail shops, grocery stores, restaurants, and workplaces. Davis said indoor dining will remain open, but customers will have to remain masked while they’re not eating or drinking.
The new cases reported by the county on July 15 lifted the cumulative total reported throughout the pandemic to 1,262,578. The county reported three more COVID-19 deaths, lifting the overall death toll to 24,566.
The number of people hospitalized in Los Angeles County due to the virus jumped to 452 on July 15, according to state figures, up from 406 on Wednesday, with 96 people in intensive care. The number of people hospitalized has been climbing steadily for the past three weeks, and is now double the number reported when COVID health restrictions were lifted statewide on June 15.
The rolling-average rate of people testing positive for the virus also continued to climb, reaching 3.75 percent on July 15, up from 3.7 percent July 14 and well above the 0.3 percent rate of a month ago.
The increase in infections and hospitalizations is widely blamed on the highly infectious “Delta” variant of the virus. The variant was first detected in India, where widespread infections were reported. The variant is also credited for significant outbreaks in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world.
“Delta” has been the most commonly detected variant in Los Angeles County for several weeks.
Davis insisted again that COVID vaccines provide strong protection against the virus and the “Delta” variant, but unvaccinated residents are at significantly higher risk.
There are still nearly four million county residents who are unvaccinated.
Currently, 69 percent of county residents aged 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 61 percent are fully vaccinated. Among those aged 65 and older, 88 percent have received at least one dose, and 78 percent are fully vaccinated.
Black residents continue to have the lowest rate of vaccinations in the county. As of July 11, 45 percent of black residents in the county have received at least one dose, compared to 55 percent among Latinos, 66 percent of white residents, and 76 percent of Asian residents.
While conceding that people who are vaccinated can still become infected, they are reportedly far less likely to become severely ill or die. As of July 15, among the nearly 4.8 million fully vaccinated residents, 4,122 have subsequently tested positive for the virus, a rate of 0.09 percent, while 213 fully vaccinated residents have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.0045 percent, and 26 have died, a rate of 0.0005 percent.
In hopes of encouraging more people to get vaccinated, the county is continuing to offer incentives. Beginning July 16 and continuing through July 22, anyone who gets vaccinated at sites operated by the county, the city of Los Angeles, or St. John’s Well Child and Family Center will be entered for a chance to win one of seven concert ticket packages, with tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters, Disney on Ice, and the Gold Over America Tour with Simone Biles at Staples Center.