With a decision expected Thursday on whether Los Angeles County will re-impose an indoor mask-wearing mandate due to COVID-19, the city of El Segundo Wednesday added its name to the list of local cities that will decline to enforce such a rule if it is implemented.
“My City Council colleagues and I strongly believe the decision to wear a mask should be the choice of the individual and should not be imposed by L.A. County,” El Segundo Mayor Drew Boyles said in a statement. “Individuals should review the data available and consider their own circumstances and make their own decisions about wearing a mask. Businesses need to consider the various agencies that regulate their businesses as part of deciding how they will react to a potential change to mask requirements.”
The council voted during a special meeting Tuesday night against enforcing a possible mask order.
The Beverly Hills City Council cast a similar vote Monday night, saying it will not enforce any new mask mandate. The cities of Long Beach and Pasadena — both of which operate their own health departments separate from the county — announced Tuesday they will not issue mask mandates, even if the county does.
“The (Long Beach) Health Department strongly encourages people to practice personal responsibility and common-sense measures to protect themselves, their loved ones and the greater community from COVID-19,” according to a statement from Long Beach. “People are advised to mask indoors when in public places, conduct rapid testing before and three to five days after social gatherings and choose outdoor activities where possible.”
Both Long Beach and Pasadena officials said they would continue to monitor the COVID situation. Pasadena officials said they would “consider appropriate public health actions to protect our community as the situation changes.”
The county Department of Public Health is expected to announce Thursday whether a new mask mandate will be imposed beginning Friday.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said the mandate will be imposed of the county remains in the “high” virus-activity level — as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — for two consecutive weeks. The county will reach that two-week threshold on Thursday.
The county moved into the “high” category when the average daily rate of new COVID-related hospital admissions reached a rate of 10 per 100,000 residents. As of last Thursday, the county’s rate was up to 11.7 per 100,000 residents.
But COVID-19 infection and hospital numbers have been stabilizing and even decreasing over the past week and a half. Ferrer said last week — and reiterated Tuesday — that if the downward trends continue, the county may hold off on imposing a new mask mandate.
She told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that, given recent declines, “We may be positioned to pause the implementation of universal masking.”
Los Angeles County is the only jurisdiction in the state considering a masking mandate, even though dozens of other counties are also in the CDC’s “high” virus-activity level.
While Ferrer has defended the idea of a mandate — calling it a proven and simple tool for slowing transmission of the virus and protecting workers in indoor businesses — opposition to the concept has been rising.
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement Monday saying she will not support a mandate. She said she agrees that masks are an effective tool against virus spread, but does not believe imposing a mandate will have the desired effect.
“I am adamantly opposed to mandating the masking, because I truly do believe it’s going to have the opposite effect,” Barger said during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Supervisor Janice Hahn joined her in opposing a possible mandate, saying she fears imposing such a rule “will be very divisive for L.A. County.”
“I honestly believe there are a significant number of the population who are not willing to accept mask mandates at this point,” Hahn said. “And many of them, the ones that have contacted me, pointed out that we do have more tools now than we had at the beginning of the pandemic.
“… Personally I’m worried … that we’re losing the trust this time of a portion of the public that’s actually been with us up to this point,” she said.
Hahn suggested that the county consider simply expanding the list of places where masks are still required to include grocery stores and pharmacies, rather than all indoor spaces. Ferrer said her department would consider the idea.
Ferrer on Tuesday again confirmed that most pandemic-tracking metrics are down, noting that the average daily rate of new cases over the past week had fallen to about 6,100, down from 6,700 the prior week. Virus-related hospitalizations had also stabilized, she said, as well as the daily number of fatalities — although she stressed that the latter number remained too high at about 14 fatalities per day.
She said transmission of COVID-19 remains high across the county, and the virus is still a leading cause of death, killing more people in the first six months of the year than drug overdoses, the flu and traffic crashes combined. The number of cases announced by the county each day are also believed to be an undercount, since many people rely on at-home tests, the results of which are not always reported to health officials.
According to state figures, there were 1,280 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, down from 1,286 on Tuesday. Of those patients, 137 were being treated in intensive care, up from 134 a day earlier.
On Tuesday, the county reported 3,547 new COVID cases, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,272,097. Another 17 deaths were announced, lifting the overall death toll to 32,654.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 14.9% as of Tuesday.