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Los Angeles County sheriff will not enforce mask mandate, saying it is not backed by science

People in masks walk past restaurants in Los Angeles on June 14. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles County Sheriff announced that his department will not enforce a reinstated mask mandate, saying it is not backed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scheduled to go into effect Saturday night, the mandate requires all residents, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that while the Los Angeles County Department of Health could enforce the order, “the underfunded/defunded Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance.”

Villanueva also encouraged the county Board of Supervisors and law enforcement to “establish mandates that are both achievable and supported by science.”

One month ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said, “California is turning the page on this pandemic,” and announced an end to almost all pandemic-related restrictions in the state.

Delta variant takes hold in U.S. as coronavirus cases rise nearly 70 percent

The new masking order comes amid a rising number of coronavirus infections and the rapid spread of the delta variant, which accounts for almost 58 percent of all cases in the country. The Los Angeles County Department of Health described “alarming trends of increased community spread” and reported 452 people hospitalized with coronavirus infections, nearly double from the total recorded a month ago.

“The alarming increases in cases, positivity rates and the increase in hospitalizations signal immediate action must be taken to slow the spread of covid-19. Otherwise, we may quickly see more devastating illness and death among the millions of residents,” said Muntu Davis, Los Angeles County health officer. “Without physical distancing and capacity limits during a time of substantial community spread, masking by everyone indoors is a simple and effective action we all can take to lower risk of transmission while limiting disruption to normal business capacity and operations.”

The delta variant has become the dominant strain of coronavirus in the United States, resulting in a rise in infections and hospitalizations. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Los Angeles County confirmed 1,902 new coronavirus cases Friday. The current test positivity rate is 3.8 percent, while in early June that rate was just 0.4 percent. Among the new cases reported by the county health department, 71 percent are among adults ages 18-49.

Public health officials in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, reported that nearly 70 percent of county residents over the age of 16 — roughly 5 million people — have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Public health officials continue to express concern about community transmission among unvaccinated populations, as well as breakthrough cases of infection, noting that in Los Angeles County there have been a total of 4,122 cases reported among vaccinated people as of July 13.

Elsewhere in California, seven Bay Area counties as well as Sacramento County, Fresno County and Yolo County have issued more aggressive guidance that recommends indoor mask usage regardless of vaccination status. The CDC has said that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks indoors or practice social distancing measures. Likewise, California’s state guidance mandates vaccinated people wear masks only on public transit, in health-care settings, indoors at schools, in correctional facilities and at homeless shelters. The CDC does, however, currently categorize Los Angeles County as having a “substantial level of community transmission.”