- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2022

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County dropped a plan to impose a universal indoor mask mandate this week as COVID-19 infections and rates of hospitalizations have stabilized, a top health official said Thursday.

Health director Barbara Ferrer announced two weeks ago that the nation’s most populous county could again require face coverings if trends in hospital admissions continued under criteria set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Thursday, she said the county managed to dodge imposition of the broad mask rule. The county remains at the “high” CDC level of community transmission, but it could drop to “medium” in coming weeks.

Ferrer said the county has experienced a “fairly steady decline in cases since July 23, potentially signaling the beginning of a downward trend in cases.” Hospitalizations are also down.

For most of the pandemic, LA County has required masks in some indoor spaces, including health care facilities, Metro trains and buses, airports, jails and homeless shelters.

The new mandate would have expanded the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared offices, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, retail stores, restaurants and bars, theaters and schools.

Nationwide, the latest COVID-19 surge is driven by the highly transmissible BA.5 variant, which now accounts for a majority of cases. It has shown a remarkable ability to get around the protection offered by vaccination.

It’s still unclear what enforcement of the health order might have looked like. Under past mandates, no individuals were cited for refusing masks, and officials favored educating people over issuing citations and fines.

Critics of a new mask rule have said they don’t believe it would decrease or stop transmission rates.

“We don’t really have empirical data that show mandating is more effective than strongly suggesting,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger told Ferrer during a Tuesday briefing.

The LA County cities of Long Beach and Pasadena have their own health departments that typically align with LA County’s rules. But not this time. Both cities said this week that they would not enforce any county requirements for face coverings.

And the City Council of Beverly Hills voted unanimously Monday to not adopt a mask mandate imposed by the county.

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