As the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the state, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is recommending that all residents wear a mask in indoor public spaces — regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Monday’s announcement is one of the clearest signs of the seriousness with which health authorities are taking the pressure and the danger it poses, especially for those who have not yet been vaccinated.
The authorities said that the available vaccines appeared to provide strong protection. However, there is significant concern that people who have not yet received all required vaccinations, or have not received doses, remain susceptible to infection with the delta variant, which can be twice as transmissible as conventional strains of coronavirus.
More than 3 in 5 Californians have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far, but less than half have fully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, which makes many experts confident that the Delta strain will not cause the kind of spike in COVID-19 seen last year.
While this isn’t a new mask mandate, Los Angeles County urges, as a precaution, “people wear face shields in places such as grocery stores or retail stores; theaters, family entertainment centers, and workplaces when everyone’s vaccination status is unknown.”
“To better understand how and to whom the delta variant is spreading, everyone should focus on maximum protection with minimal disruption to routine, as all businesses operate without restrictions such as physical distancing and capacity limits,” the authorities wrote in a statement.
Covering the face in enclosed public places was the norm until recently, and remains mandatory for non-vaccinators. However, as part of California’s June 15 reopening, the state agreed with CDC guidance that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most situations.
Despite the recent recommendation, Los Angeles County health officials noted that “full vaccinated people appear to be well protected from infection with delta forms.”
Of the 123 people from Los Angeles County confirmed to have the delta type so far, 110 have not been vaccinated and three have been partially vaccinated. There were two types of hospitalization among the people in this group.
Cases of the variant were found in 10 fully vaccinated individuals, none of whom required hospital care.
“People who were fully vaccinated did not have severe cases of the disease,” Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County, said last week.
“It’s a vulnerable pandemic,” he added at this point.
Nearly 1.25 million cases of coronavirus have been confirmed across the country during the pandemic. More than 24,400 Angelinos have died.
Of the confirmed Delta cases in Los Angeles County, 49 were among Palmdale and Lancaster residents. Fourteen cases were in people from one family.
The variant, which was first identified in India and also known as B.1.617.2, is now the third most common in California, accounting for 14.5% of coronavirus cases tested in June, up from 4.7% in May.
“Although the COVID-19 vaccine provides highly effective protection, preventing hospitalizations and deaths against the Delta type, the strain has proven to be more transmissible and is expected to be more widespread,” Ferrer said in a statement Monday. “The use of a mask remains an effective tool for reducing transmission, especially indoors, where the virus can easily spread through inhalation of aerosols emitted by an infected person.”
At this time, there is no general scientific consensus on whether the delta variant is more likely to cause more serious disease than other breeds.
However, a recent study revealed that a full two-dose course of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease caused by the delta variant and 96% protective against hospitalization.
Despite acknowledging the efficacy of infectious delta, many experts do not expect a new surge of COVID-19 of scale that hit the state last summer and through fall and winter, largely because the current level of vaccination coverage is so high.
However, communities with low levels of vaccination remain vulnerable to the potential for outbreaks.
Another concern is that each new infection gives the coronavirus an extra chance to mutate, possibly in dangerous ways.
“We know that our vaccines work against this variant. However, this variant represents a group of mutations that could lead to future mutations that avoid our vaccine,” which is why vaccination is more important now than ever to stop the chain of infection and thus the chain of mutation.
Times editors Rong-Gong Lin II and Alex Wigglesworth contributed to this report.
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