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With Covid Cases Rising, LA Is Poised to Reinstitute Indoor Mask Mandates—Including at Restaurants

The county is experiencing increased transmission, due to the highly infectious BA.5 variant.

Two people wearing masks wait to order food. Associated Press

Los Angelenos have been enjoying a return to indoor dining for some time now—but according to reports in the Los Angeles Times, new restrictions might be on the way.

As you’re probably aware, transmission of the coronavirus is on the rise again (the new BA.5 variant is highly infectious, fueling the current wave), and if that trend continues, the new mask mandate will go into effect on July 29, including in restaurants and bars. Since last Thursday, Los Angeles County has been categorized as having “high community level” spread, which means that both transmission of the virus is high and hospitals are being affected. The CDC recommends that once a place reaches that level of spread, universal indoor public masking should occur.

“I recognize that when we return to indoor masking this will seem like a step backwards,” said Barbara Ferrer, the LA County public-health director, according to Deadline. “The reality is that we’re living with a mutating SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

As of Friday, LA County hospitals had 1,252 Covid-positive patients, more than double the number they had a month earlier. And over the past month, Covid deaths have doubled, with officials reporting 100 deaths a week, according to the LA Times.

Currently, hospitals are not being overrun as occurred earlier in the pandemic. However, some departments are feeling strapped, due in part to staffing shortages from employees themselves getting Covid.

“Waiting until hospitals are overwhelmed is way too late to try to do much about slowing transmission,” Ferrer said. “The time to slow transmission is actually when you start seeing indicators that you’re having more utilization at your hospitals.”

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How this new mandate would play out in restaurants is unclear, though we can presume it would mean a return to masking among restaurant employees, both in the front and back of house, and masking for diners until they are seated. It may well mean a stronger push toward outdoor dining, as we saw in previous phases of the pandemic.

Given the heat wave sweeping the country, hopefully that means restaurants will invest as heavily in outdoor fans this summer as they did in outdoor heaters during the winter.

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