Dine-in customers of restaurants in California’s Los Angeles County will be required to wear facemasks again unless the restaurant-rich area flattens a spike in hospitalizations from a more virulent new strain of coronavirus, health officials warned Friday.
If admissions continue at the current rate, the experts said, the mask mandate will be reinstated on July 29. A number of schools and state universities have already reverted to the protective measure, noting that the BA.5 virus appears to be more contagious than earlier versions.
Research has indicated that it may also be four times as resistant to vaccination as earlier variations. That makes the so-called subvariant, a version of the omicron virus, easier to catch and potentially more dangerous.
In announcing a possible re-up of the mask mandate, officials noted that hospitalizations from new cases of COVID-19 are now running 88% above the rate of a year ago. That amounts to 10.5 admissions per 100,000 cases.
Guidelines drafted earlier in the pandemic require certain safety protocols to be put back in place if the rate of hospitalizations should remain in place for two straight weeks. If the rate should slip below 10 admissions per 100,000 cases even for a day, the clock resets.
The restaurant industry has not seen a mask mandate adopted since Philadelphia announced that it was reverting to the safety measure in mid-April. Three days after the requirement went back into effect, civic officials lifted it, saying that vaccines and a natural immunity from catching COVID-19 were providing adequate protections.
The tally of new COVID cases has been soaring because of the BA.5 variant. Reported infections have jumped 15% during the last two weeks, to a daily average of just under 130,000, according to The New York Times.
Hospitalizations rose 20% during that timeframe, the Times said.
“I recognize that when we return to universal indoor masking to help reduce high spread, for many this will feel like a step backwards,” Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health, said in a statement. “For others, indoor masking will feel unnecessary because of the availability of powerful vaccines and therapeutics. The reality is that because we are living with a mutating SARS-CoV-2 virus, there remains uncertainty around the trajectory of the pandemic.”
The county is the most populous one in the country, with a population of about 9.8 million.
It also abounds in restaurants. As of 2019, it sported about 29,300 establishments, according to the Department of Health.
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