UCLA reinstates indoor mask mandate as L.A. County coronavirus cases rise
UCLA has ordered a mask mandate in indoor settings on campus, effective Friday, as coronavirus cases continue to climb in Los Angeles County.
Officials said the mask order was needed to avoid disrupting in-person learning and campus activities, including graduation.
“An important strategy to curb the spread of COVID-19, in addition to ongoing testing and daily symptom monitoring, is the consistent use of well-fitting masks indoors,” the campus said in a letter Thursday.
The mask order will remain in place through at least June 15 for “all students, staff, faculty, affiliates and visitors to the UCLA campus, regardless of vaccination status,” the letter said.
The number of cases at UCLA is high enough that the campus is in its severe COVID-19 tier, the worst of four levels used by campus decision-makers.
The dominant coronavirus strain in the U.S. spreads faster than its predecessors, is adept at escaping immunity and might cause more serious disease.
L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer applauded UCLA’s move, saying she thinks it will make a difference, but added that a countywide mask mandate remains off the table — unless the coronavirus starts putting serious strain on the region’s hospitals.
During a briefing Thursday, she said “should we continue to see a lot of outbreaks at schools, it is likely for those higher-risk indoor activities — indoor events, indoor graduations, indoor high- or medium-contact sports, we’ll be asking people to put those masks back on.”
Earlier this week, L.A. County health officials warned that coronavirus cases among students and staff at K-12 schools have more than doubled in the last month. Between May 9 and May 15, there were 5,918 coronavirus cases among students and staff; for the prior month, between April 11 and April 17, there were 2,742.
There were 16 outbreaks associated with schools from May 15 to May 21. “Large outbreaks at a small number of schools have been associated with proms, school events and performances, and field trips, with cases per outbreak ranging from 25 to 80 among students and staff,” Ferrer said.
As they have for months, county health officials strongly recommend — but do not require — that Angelenos mask up in all public indoor settings.
Masks may not be required in many places but they’re still encouraged, officials say, as new COVID cases continue to climb.
Overall, coronavirus cases are still on the rise in L.A. County. During the weeklong period that ended Thursday, the county reported an average of more than 4,200 new cases a day — a rate of 293 new infections per 100,000 residents. A rate of 100 or more is considered a high rate of transmission.
Officials also say these case numbers are an undercount, as many residents are now self-diagnosing using over-the-counter tests, the results of which are not reliably reported.
UCLA’s move comes several days after the Berkeley public school system ordered an indoor mask mandate for students and staff for the remainder of the school year, including indoor graduations. The surge has proved so disruptive that district administrators are again needing to fill in for teachers who are out sick with COVID-19, the school district said.
“Everyone should be wearing a well-fitting mask when indoors in the classroom and at school events,” Ferrer said. “Continued increased transmission at schools can result in the need for additional safety measures at higher-risk indoor activities, including indoor sporting events; indoor theater, band or choir performances; and indoor celebrations and graduation ceremonies.”
Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have all seen upticks in coronavirus case rates.
People attending large celebratory events — including those that are school-related — should also test before attending and stay home if they test positive, county health officials say.
Officials also urged people to get updated on their booster shots. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued a recommendation that vaccinated children ages 5 to 11 get a booster shot. The CDC also formally recommended that those 50 and older, and those 12 and above who are immunocompromised, get a second booster shot if eligible.
“While we recognize that many children who test positive experience mild illness, national trends are showing increases in cases and hospitalization rates for children and more concerns about long-term impacts of even mild infection in children,” Ferrer said in a statement earlier this week.
The White House wants to make Paxlovid pills more accessible as it projects that coronavirus infections will continue to rise during the summer.
The county remains far from the metrics that health officials have said would prompt a return to a universal indoor mask mandate. That would occur should the county reach the high COVID-19 community level outlined by the CDC.
L.A. County is recording 4.5 new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents, up from the previous week’s rate of 3.7, according to CDC data released Thursday. But that’s still less than half the threshold of 10 that would land the county in the high community level.
Hospitalizations have risen of late, however. On Wednesday, 429 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized countywide. While still on the lower side compared with earlier waves of the pandemic, that census has jumped roughly 61% in the last two weeks.
Though not all of those patients are hospitalized for COVID-19 — many have incidentally tested positive upon admission — they nevertheless require staff, which can collectively put a strain on hospitals.
“If we continue on the current trajectory, we could find that cases and hospitalizations end up exerting stress on our healthcare system within just a few weeks,” Ferrer said.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.