Masks could return to Los Angeles as COVID surges nationwide

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nick Barragan is used to wearing a mask because his job in the Los Angeles film industry has long required it, so he won’t be fazed if the nation’s most populous county reinstates rules requiring face coverings due to another spike in coronavirus cases across the country.

“I feel good because I’ve worn one pretty much constantly for the past few years. It’s become a habit,” Barragan said, wearing a mask as he ran errands on Wednesday.

Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people, faces a return to a broad indoor mask mandate later this month if current trends in hospital admissions continue, this said. week county health director Barbara Ferrer.

Nationally, the latest surge of COVID-19 is due to the highly transmissible BA.5 variant, which now accounts for 65% of cases, with its cousin BA.4 contributing another 16%. The variants showed a remarkable ability to circumvent the protection offered by vaccination.

As new omicron variants push hospitalizations and deaths up again in recent weeks, states and cities are rethinking their responses and the White House is stepping up efforts to alert the public.

Some experts have said the warnings are too little, too late.

“It’s much later than the warning could have been given,” said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who called BA.5 “the worst variant yet.”

Global trends for both mutants have been apparent for weeks, experts said – they are rapidly outperforming older variants and pushing cases higher wherever they appear. Still, Americans threw off their masks and plunged back into travel and social gatherings. And they’ve largely ignored booster shots, which protect against the worst outcomes of COVID-19. Courts have blocked federal mask and vaccine mandates, tying the hands of US officials.

“We are learning a lot from how the virus acts elsewhere and we should apply the knowledge here,” said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics science at the University of Washington in Seattle.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha appeared on morning television Wednesday, urging booster shots and renewed vigilance. Still, Mokdad said federal health officials need to put more emphasis on indoor masks, early detection and prompt antiviral treatment.

“They’re not doing everything they can,” Mokdad said.

The administration’s challenge, in the White House’s view, is not their message, but people’s willingness to hear it — due to pandemic fatigue and the politicization of the virus response.

For months, the White House has encouraged Americans to use free or inexpensive rapid home tests to detect the virus, as well as the free and effective antiviral treatment Paxlovid that protects against serious illness and death. On Tuesday, the White House response team called on all adults aged 50 and over to urgently get a booster if they haven’t already done so this year – and dissuaded people from waiting the next generation of vaccines expected in the fall when they can roll up their sleeves and get some protection now.

Requiring masks “helps us reduce risk,” Ferrer told Los Angeles County supervisors. She is expected to discuss details of the county’s potential new mandate at a public health briefing on Thursday afternoon.

“I recognize that when we return to universal indoor masking to reduce high spread, for many it will feel like a step backwards,” Ferrer said Tuesday.

For most of the pandemic, Los Angeles County has required masks in certain indoor spaces, including healthcare facilities, subways and buses, airports, prisons and homeless shelters. The new mandate would extend the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared offices, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, retail stores, restaurants and bars, theaters and schools.

It’s unclear what the app might look like. Under previous terms, officials have preferred to educate people rather than issue citations and fines.

Sharon Fayette ripped off her mask as she exited a Lyft ride in Los Angeles on Wednesday and groaned when told another universal mask requirement could be coming. “Oh man, when is this going to end?” she wondered about the pandemic.

Fayette said she was exhausted by the change in regulations and doubted another term would be followed by most residents. “I just think people are above that, above all the rules,” she said.

Barragan said he learned a hard lesson about the effectiveness of masks when he went without a face covering at a movie industry mixer last month in Los Angeles. “I thought it would be good because we were all outside,” Barragan, 35, said. A few days later he started to feel sick and, sure enough, tested positive.

He had avoided catching the virus for more than two years because he insisted on masking himself. “The only time I took it off, I caught it!” he’s laughing.

The country’s brief lull in COVID deaths has reversed. Last month daily fatalities fell, although they never hit last year’s low, and fatalities are now rebounding.

The seven-day average of daily deaths in the United States rose 26% over the past two weeks to 489 on July 12.

The coronavirus isn’t killing as many as it did last fall and winter, and experts don’t expect death to hit those levels again anytime soon. But hundreds of daily deaths from summer respiratory disease would normally be breathtaking, said Andrew Noymer, a professor of public health at the University of California, Irvine. He noted that in Orange County, California, 46 people died of COVID-19 in June.

“That would be everyone on deck,” Noymer said. “People would say, ‘There’s this crazy new flu that’s killing people in June. “”

Instead, simple, proven precautions are not taken. Vaccinations, including boosters for those eligible, reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, even against the latest variants. But less than half of all eligible American adults have received a single booster, and only about 1 in 4 Americans ages 50 and older who are eligible for a second booster have received one.

“It was a botched recall campaign,” Topol said, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still uses the term “fully vaccinated” for people who received two shots of Moderna or Pfizer. “They didn’t understand that two shots are totally insufficient,” he said.

Noymer said that if he was in charge of the country’s COVID response, he would get on the level of the American people in an effort to get their attention in this third year of the pandemic. He would tell Americans to take it seriously, hide indoors and “until we get better vaccines, there will be a new normal of a disease that kills over 100,000 Americans a year and has an impact on life expectancy.

That message probably wouldn’t get through for political reasons, Noymer acknowledged.

It also might not fly with people tired of taking precautions after more than two years of the pandemic. Valerie Walker of New Hope, Pennsylvania is aware of the latest surge but is hardly alarmed.

“I was really worried at the time,” she said of the early days of the pandemic, with images of body bags on evening newscasts. “Now there’s fatigue, things were improving and there was a vaccine. So I would say on a scale between one and 10, I’m probably a four.

Even with two friends now sick with the virus and her recently recovered husband, Walker says she has bigger problems.

“Sometimes when I think about it, I still put on a mask when I walk into a store, but honestly, that’s not a daily thought for me,” she said.


Johnson, AP Medical Writer, reported from Washington state. Associated Press writers Bobby Caina Calvan in New York and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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