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Will anyone enforce L.A. County’s new indoor mask mandate?

A barista wears a face mask at work.
Barista Ava Dorny, 15, wears a face mask as she works at Charlie’s Coffee House on Sunday in South Pasadena.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County’s indoor mask mandate is now the law of the land.

But how — or whether — it will be enforced remains an open question.

Technically, those who violate the new mask rules, or any other provisions included in the county’s latest health officer order, can be cited or fined.

But practically speaking, many health and law enforcement officials throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have favored educating residents about the rules and urging adherence rather than writing a flurry of tickets.

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That appears to still be the name of the game.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said his department “will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance” with the new rules.

County officials also have indicated they won’t take a punitive approach to face-covering scofflaws, with health officer Dr. Muntu Davis saying, “We will continue to go out and educate. It’s not something we really want to have to do in terms of giving citations.”

L.A. County now requires masks in indoor public places, opening a new battle line as the coronavirus is rising significantly among the unvaccinated.

Though the Department of Public Health “utilizes education and information sharing as the primary step in gaining compliance,” officials said Monday that “when compliance is not achieved at worksites and businesses, enforcement may include issuance of a notice of violation or a citation.”

“By wearing masks indoors at public places and worksites, we can get back to slowing the spread of the virus,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Many businesses and worksites are doing their part by posting signs and asking employees and customers to mask up while indoors. Please do you part and cooperate.”

The Los Angeles Police Department is urging residents to adhere to the new order, which went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday after a drastic increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the last few weeks.

“The department continues to ask all Angelenos to abide by the mask mandate, recognizing that the recent resurgence is troubling,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Monday. “These hospitalizations and this loss of life are real. Our personnel will wear masks in all public settings, as well as in office settings, and I’m asking all Angelenos to comply with it.”

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Whether an education-over-enforcement strategy will have the desired effect remains to be seen. But given how rapidly the countywide COVID-19 landscape has deteriorated, officials say things need to change — and fast.

Over the weeklong period ending Sunday, L.A. County averaged more than 1,400 new coronavirus cases a day, up from about 170 cases a day for the week that ended June 15.

Health officials reported 1,233 new cases Monday.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 countywide has more than doubled in the last month, from 219 on June 18 to 544 on Sunday.

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Los Angeles County is now recording more than 10,000 coronavirus cases a week — a pace not seen since March.

Daily infections and hospitalizations, both in L.A. County and statewide, remain only a fraction of those seen during the height of the fall and winter surge. However, officials say the trend lines are troubling as millions of unvaccinated residents remain vulnerable to the coronavirus, especially its highly infectious Delta variant.

“We really do need to get these numbers down,” Davis said. “Otherwise, we’re going to end up in a situation where more strict measures have to be put in place. It’s not a place that we want to be.”

The county’s order requires everyone — including those who are fully vaccinated — to wear a mask in all indoor public settings, such as theaters, stores, gyms, offices and workplaces, and in restaurants when not eating and drinking — with limited exemptions, including children younger than 2.

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L.A. County’s mandate is unique in California at this point, though some counties — including most of the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Yolo and Fresno — now recommend people wear masks indoors as a precaution.

Both the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, continue to maintain that fully vaccinated people can go without masks in most situations.

L.A. County officials say with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations growing, they hope reinstituting masking as a social norm will help reduce disease transmission.

Although similar face-covering requirements were in place in the weeks leading up to California’s June 15 reopening, L.A. County’s walk-back has come under some fire. Critics decry the move as unnecessary — given the wealth of data demonstrating the high level of protection vaccines provide — and some fully inoculated individuals have expressed frustration at being asked to surrender one of their recently realized freedoms to protect those who have chosen not to roll up their sleeves.

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Villanueva is among those who have blasted the order, saying in a statement that “forcing the vaccinated and those who already contracted COVID-19 to wear masks indoors is not backed by science” and contradicts CDC guidelines.

County health officials, though, have characterized the mask mandate as one of the most effective and least intrusive tools available to blunt increasing coronavirus transmission.

“From what we’ve heard from businesses, it’s easier and better for us to do this, and it’s much easier for people to understand in terms of where they need to mask,” Davis said.

‘Anything is on the table if things continue to get worse, which is why we want to take action now,’ the L.A. County health officer said.

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L.A. County isn’t alone in seeing a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Over the last week, California has reported an average of 3,671 new cases per day — more than quadruple the number seen a month ago.

There are now more than 2,000 coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized statewide, the most since early April.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that the state is “committed to addressing this latest increase in the number of new cases” but also “committed not to imposing new restrictions.”

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The surest way to turn the tide, he said, is for residents to get inoculated if they haven’t already. Roughly 60% of all Californians have gotten at least one vaccine dose, but only about 52% are fully vaccinated.

“We have the opportunity to turn this around and not have to deal with these recommendations, these mandates across the spectrum,” Newsom told reporters during an event in Sonoma County. “And that opportunity resides in each and every one of us to make the individual decision that will change the course of history of this pandemic and this disease once and for all. Please get vaccinated.”

Times staff writers Melissa Hernandez, Rong-Gong Lin II and Hannah Fry contributed to this report.


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