L.A. residents torn as mask mandate takes effect

LOS ANGELES — As a mask mandate falls upon Los Angeles County once again this weekend, some residents say it’s unnecessary and intrusive, while others are feeling relieved as local cases rise.

“It’s overdue, I’m glad they did that,” said Mike McHargue, a resident of La Crescenta-Montrose, a city about 15 miles north of downtown L.A.

“There’s no way to do that partial mask mandate, people are going to not get vaccinated. We’re gonna have to wear masks for years,” he said.

McHargue’s family, including two teens, spent the last year and a half protecting themselves from the virus. They isolated themselves. They wore masks when outside. And they got both doses of the Moderna vaccine. The family took a celebratory trip to Disneyland, where they continued to wear masks despite the park dropping its mask mandate for vaccinated people after California state officials did the same.

It was on this trip, McHargue believes, that he and his wife contracted COVID-19. He is now 12 days into symptoms, which would have likely been much more severe if he weren’t vaccinated. The vast majority — 99.5 percent — of U.S. COVID-19 deaths are among unvaccinated people.

“I have very little doubt I’d probably be on a ventilator if I wasn’t vaccinated and my wife wasn’t vaxxed. She had a very mild case. The vaccines do offer protection for the worst outcome,” said McHargue, who hosts a weekly science podcast.

Face mask signage is displayed outside the Trunks bar after midnight early Sunday morning on July 18, 2021 in West Hollywood, California. - Wearing a face mask at indoor public establishments will once again be mandatory in Los Angeles County starting at 11:59 pm July 17, 2021 for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people due to a steady increase in Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations, health authorities said. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
Face mask signage is displayed outside the Trunks bar in West Hollywood. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

On Saturday night, Los Angeles reimposed a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. County health officials hope the policy shift will blunt the upward trend of local coronavirus cases, which are still at a far lower rate than earlier in the pandemic.

But the move places L.A. County at odds with current state and federal guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that fully vaccinated people “can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” with an exemption for local governments and businesses requiring otherwise. California dropped its statewide mask mandate last month.

[See also: “Why the mask culture wars may never end”]

Chris Y, who lives in Mar Vista, Calif., is one of many residents not happy with the county’s reimposed mask policy, which he called a “big mistake.”

“It punishes those that listened to health authorities for the last 14 months and got vaccinated when they could,” he said. “It takes away a meaningful incentive for those that have yet to get it — while the population is not large, there is a group that would get vaccinated strictly if it meant they no longer had to be masked.”

Chris isn’t alone in questioning L.A.’s new requirement. “Does L.A. County’s new COVID-19 mask mandate make any sense?” asked the Los Angeles Times in a recent article featuring experts on both sides of the debate. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the order is “not backed by science,” and said he wouldn’t use his department’s limited resources to enforce the order. He instead is asking for voluntary compliance.

“I’m not pleased that we have to go back to using the masks in this matter. But, nonetheless, it’s going to save lives,” Hilda Solis, the chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

FILE — In this April 13, 2021, file photo, kindergarten students sit in their classroom on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles. California health officials announced new coronavirus rules for public schools on Monday, July 12, 2021. The new rules eliminate physical distancing while making sure no one will miss class time even if they are exposed to someone with the virus. But the state would continue to require all students and staff to wear masks indoors. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Kindergarten students on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles in April. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

A number of other California counties are now similarly recommending — but not mandating — masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. On Friday, seven Bay Area counties jointly announced the recommendation, and two Sacramento-area counties did the same earlier that week.

“Out of an abundance of caution, people are recommended to wear masks indoors in settings like grocery or retail stores, theaters and family entertainment centers, even if they are fully vaccinated as an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents,” the Bay Area officials said in the joint statement.

A little further east, health officials in southern Nevada recommended that all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks “in crowded indoor public places where they may have contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.” The region includes the casino mecca Las Vegas and its suburbs.

Many of the revised recommendations, including L.A.’s, explicitly cite the highly contagious Delta variant, which is wreaking havoc among unvaccinated communities across the U.S. All versions of the vaccine protect against severe or critical illness, including from the Delta variant.

“I’d love to take my mask off, I’d love everybody to be able to take their masks off,” said McHargue. “But to do that, people gotta do their part. They gotta get their shots.”


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