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Masks at Dodger Stadium, Hollywood Bowl: Why officials say outdoor venues need COVID rules

Fans, mostly  unmasked, cheer at Dodger Stadium this summer.
Fans cheer on reopening night at Dodger Stadium on June 15 in Los Angeles.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

In hopes of gaining ground in the battle against the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, health officials throughout California have recommended or required residents wear face coverings when in public indoor settings.

Los Angeles County on Tuesday went further, issuing a new order that, starting later this week, will require people to mask up while attending large outdoor events — such as concerts, festivals and sports games — regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.

The mandate would apply to sizable events at a host of venues, including Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, L.A. Coliseum and the Rose Bowl.

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Health experts have long said crowded indoor public spaces pose a particularly high risk of coronavirus transmission — especially for those who are unvaccinated. But L.A. County’s new order is a step beyond and, officials say, reflects the dangers posed by Delta, which has fueled sharp rises in cases and hospitalizations over the past two months.

L.A. County is imposing a mask order for outdoor events that attract crowds of more than 10,000 people, such as concerts and sporting competitions.

Why the mask rules for outdoors?

“If you’re in crowded areas outdoors, for whatever reason, you should consider wearing a mask,” Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, a deputy health officer for Orange County, said at a briefing last week.

While transmission of the coronavirus is less common in outdoor settings than indoors, it is possible — think about how people can smell secondhand smoke outdoors, Chinsio-Kwong said.

“We can’t — unfortunately — smell COVID,” she said. “But it’s lingering in the air, so there is still a potential to get COVID when you’re outdoors and in close contact or at least in close proximity to others, and you’re in social events where people are spitting, singing, coughing, sneezing right in the air that you’re breathing.”

L.A. County officials underscored those concerns.

“As the highly infectious Delta variant continues to spread, wearing masks — regardless of vaccination status — indoors and in crowded settings, including at outdoor mega events, reduces the risk of being infected with and transmitting COVID-19,” the Department of Public Health said in a statement Tuesday evening.

Lambda is worth watching because of its massive spread in South America, but health officials don’t know whether it will supplant Delta.

What does the order say?

The order, which goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, applies to outdoor events that attract crowds of more than 10,000 people.

In those cases, attendees must “wear face masks at all times, except when actively eating or drinking,” the order states. That’s further defined as “the limited time during which the mask can be removed briefly to eat or drink, after which it must be immediately put back on.”

L.A. County’s move to mandate masking at outdoor events of that size is a step beyond what the state prescribes. According to the California Department of Public Health, masks are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in only a handful of indoor settings, such as K-12 schools, healthcare settings and aboard public transit.

The number of people being infected and falling seriously ill with COVID-19 is no longer accelerating at dramatic rates and even beginning to flatten in some areas.

What are the risks?

Officials say the vast majority of those who have been hit by the latest COVID wave are unvaccinated, and recent data affirm that fully vaccinated people are highly protected against severe COVID-19.

But with the rise of the Delta variant, it is no longer considered rare for fully vaccinated people — while remaining generally healthy — to become infected and capable of transmitting the virus to others.

The Delta variant is at least twice as transmissible as the previous dominant strain, Alpha, and can produce a viral load up to 1,000 times greater in the upper throat, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-diseases expert, said last week.

That is the reason “you have such a tremendous increase in transmissibility,” he said.


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