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11:47 AM

COVID-19 Spike: County Requires Residents to Re-Mask Indoors

Uptick in COVID-19 Cases Prompts Call for Everyone–Even the Vaccinated–to Wear Face Coverings Indoors

As the number of local COVID-19 cases continues to rise, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials have announced that all residents and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, must resume wearing face coverings in indoor public spaces. 

Health officials believe this rise in cases is largely due to the circulation of the Delta variant, which has become the dominant strain in the area and has led to a 261% increase in COVID-19 cases in just two weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

"We've seen, over the past few days, a steady rise in cases in L.A. County and a small rise in hospitalized patients," said Michael Ben-Aderet, MD, associate medical director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai. "There's good evidence that the Delta variant is more contagious than previous variants we've seen. A significant number of people in L.A. County are still unvaccinated, and there's increased potential for another devastating surge." 

Case rates in California are still relatively low, at about 22 cases per 100,000. But Ben-Aderet points out that other states, where vaccination rates are lower, are experiencing as many as 170 cases per 100,000, a level equivalent to California's winter surge. 

"There are areas of this country right now that are having outbreaks as severe as where we were in winter," he said. "There are hospitals that are full. We can't think that we're immune from getting there ourselves. "

Sam Torbati, MD, co-chair and medical director of Cedars-Sinai's Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department, is urging the unvaccinated to get the shot to protect themselves and to give frontline workers a breather. 

"Since this increase in cases began, following the July 4 holiday, virtually every one of the COVID-19 patients who come to the Emergency Department and who need to be hospitalized have been unvaccinated," Torbati said. "After 16 months of fighting this pandemic day in and day out, frontline workers are tired. The best way to help us is to get the shot." 

Those who have received two doses of vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have 95% to 100% protection from severe COVID-19. But with so much virus circulating, even fully vaccinated people could develop mild or asymptomatic cases—and infect others, who might be immunocompromised and more susceptible to becoming severely ill. 

"If you've received the vaccine, you can really feel good that you have a strong degree of protection, including against the Delta variant," said Ben-Aderet. "But a small number of people might still be susceptible to developing mild illness or asymptomatic infection, and we don't know exactly how contagious you might be if that happens." 

Those who are unvaccinated, as well as some immune compromised people, are most vulnerable, and until vaccination rates improve, returning to universal masking in indoor settings is the best way to get ahead of a potential surge, Ben-Aderet said. 

"Every single person needs to get vaccinated," he said. "There's absolutely no reason to delay this. This increase in cases nationally and in L.A. County is 100% driven by unvaccinated people, people who have refused or are unwilling to get the vaccine."

Ben-Aderet predicts that cases among the unvaccinated will continue to rise.

"We've seen more young people getting disease, including more children," he said, "and unfortunately, we are going to see an increase in hospitalizations and deaths."

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: PTSD From COVID-19? What You Should Know