Teachers in Los Angeles County will be required to wear high-grade masks while in class, while staff and students will be required to wear masks outdoors in crowded spaces under new rules.
The rule, which applies to both public and private schools in the county, was implemented as students returned from their winter break, according to updated guidance from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.
“During this surge, given the spread of a more infectious strain of the virus, lapses can lead to explosive transmission,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer wrote in a Jan. 2 statement. “Well-fitting and high-quality masks are an essential layer of protection when people are in close contact with others, especially when indoors or in outdoor crowded spaces where distancing is not possible.”
The mask guidance was updated after a surge in COVID-19 infections, which was blamed on the spread of both the Omicron and Delta coronavirus variants. Los Angeles County reported about 23,000 new COVID-19 cases on Jan. 1 and roughly 21,000 cases on Jan. 2, as well as two deaths that were confirmed over the past weekend, although the individuals’ respective ages and other information weren’t provided.
Across the United States, the number of COVID-19 cases has spiked in recent weeks, reaching all-time daily highs, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, amid the spread of the Omicron variant, the death rate appears to be lower than previous surges, the data show.
“Although masks can be annoying and even uncomfortable for some, given that many infected individuals are spreading COVID 1–2 days before they are symptomatic, the physical barrier tendered by a mask is known to reduce the spread of virus particles,” Ferrer said in the statement.
The health department didn’t elaborate on what kind of masks would be deemed “high quality” under the new guidelines.
County officials decided late last week that new guidance would be implemented, sending a letter out to district and school officials within the county.
“I apologize for disrupting your New Year’s Eve, but wanted to get information to you as soon as possible,” Debra Duardo, superintendent for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, wrote in a letter dated Dec. 31. “We received an email from [county health] at 4:35 p.m. today regarding updates to K–12 policies in response to Omicron with a request to provide this information to all 80 districts ASAP. I realize that these changes will create challenges to an already difficult situation for all of you. I am sorry that this is giving you such short notice.”