Ineffective Mask Mandates Could Be Returning in L.A. and Seattle
Public officials in Los Angeles and Seattle are reportedly mulling a return to mask mandates as COVID-19 case numbers surge and hospitalization rates creep upward.
Hospitalizations now exceed 10 per 100,000 residents in Los Angeles County, the threshold where indoor masking in public spaces becomes mandatory under the county’s pandemic mitigation plans. If the county remains above that rate of hospitalizations for the next two weeks, the mask mandate would automatically take effect on July 29, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
In Washington state, meanwhile, officials in King County (which includes Seattle) are having “active discussions” about a new mask mandate as COVID hospitalizations climb, according to local TV station Fox 13.
In both places, officials are pointing to the highly transmissible new subvariants of the omicron variant of COVID. Those subvariants—BA. 4 and BA. 5—are now the dominant strains of the virus circulating in the U.S., but they seem to cause less severe illness and fewer hospitalizations than their predecessors.
So why are some places with high vaccination rates returning to mask mandates? Good question.
Wearing masks might provide some marginal protection against COVID infection, but even that’s pretty debatable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admitted in January that nonsurgical masks provide little protection. “Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations,” is how CNN medical analyst Leana Wen described them in December 2021. Fitted surgical masks and N95 masks provide better defense but are cumbersome to wear on a regular basis, as even CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has conceded.
There’s less debate a
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