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Top StoriesL.A. County's Mask Mandate Is Here. The Sheriff Won't...

L.A. County’s Mask Mandate Is Here. The Sheriff Won’t Enforce It.

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A new requirement that masks be worn indoors in Los Angeles County went into effect at midnight on Saturday, as officials try to blunt a sharp spike in new coronavirus cases.

The county’s daily average of new cases has more than doubled in each of the past two weeks, reaching almost 1,400 as of Saturday, and Covid hospitalizations are up by 27 percent, according to a New York Times database. Still, the numbers are far smaller than during the county’s winter peak, and daily deaths have remained in the single digits.

“When you look back at the last seven days obviously a whole lot has changed,” Hilda Solis, the chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said on Sunday on the ABC program “This Week.” Ms. Solis called the past week’s increase in coronavirus cases — from an average of 761 to 1,389 — “very disturbing.”

“I am not pleased that we have to go back to using the mask in this matter, but it’s going to save lives,” she said.

Under the new mandate, both unvaccinated and vaccinated people will be required to wear masks. Including vaccinated people, Ms. Solis said, was “not punishment, it’s prevention.”

The mask requirement was reintroduced, according to the county health department, because the area’s surge of the highly infectious Delta variant presents risks that earlier versions of the virus did not.

“People with only one vaccine are not as well protected, and there is evidence that a very small number of fully vaccinated individuals can become infected and may be able to infect others,” said a statement the department issued on Thursday.

County public health officials had been urging residents for weeks to wear masks indoors as the Delta variant spread in the state, as it is doing across the country.

But with California fully reopened and pandemic restrictions lifted, it remains unclear how willing the public will be to pick up their masks again.

However, there were early signs of swift compliance. At the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, the 70th-floor lobby was jammed on Saturday evening with about 100 revelers, about half of them unmasked. By Sunday mid-morning, about a dozen guests milled around the lobby, all masked save for one lone tourist at a window taking a selfie.

Near the check-in desk, the concierge was handing out face coverings to “comply with the mandate.” In the elevator, three unmasked men vacationing from Tunisia who said they had been vaccinated instantly produced blue surgical masks and slipped them on when informed the mandate had taken effect. “Better safe than sorry,” said a guest in a mask and workout gear who identified himself as a KAL pilot.

The county sheriff, Alex Villanueva, has made it clear that his officers would not be enforcing the mandate. In a statement posted on his department’s website on Friday, he said the department “will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance.” He also implicitly criticized the mandate, saying, “Forcing the vaccinated and those who already contracted Covid-19 to wear masks indoors is not backed by science.”

When asked about Sheriff Villanueva’s statement, Ms. Solis said that any enforcement was the responsibility of the health department. “The public overall is smart enough to understand what is being said, and how to protect themselves,” she said.

The county health department could issue a notice of violation or a citation to businesses that fail to comply with the mandate, a spokeswoman, Natalie Jimenez, wrote in an email on Saturday. But she said that “education and information sharing” would be the department’s primary approaches.



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