Long Beach says it won’t reinstate indoor mask mandate even if LA County does

Despite a rising number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Long Beach will not reinstate a universal indoor mask mandate regardless of any decisions at the county level, health officials announced Tuesday.

The city, instead, will continue to follow California Department of Public Health guidelines, which only recommend—not require—masking in most circumstances, according to Tuesday’s announcement from the city’s health department.

“The 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,” the health department said in a statement. “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.”

Masks are still mandated in indoor health care facilities, transit hubs, on transit vehicles, airports, correctional facilities and shelters. A universal mandate would spread the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared office spaces, manufacturing facilities, retail stores, indoor events, indoor restaurants and bars, and schools.

Two weeks ago, with coronavirus surging, Los Angeles County health officials announced a universal indoor mask mandate would likely be reinstated on July 29. At the time, Long Beach health officials said they were uncertain if it would fall in line with the county.

Speaking to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, however, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said countywide cases, hospitalization and death numbers are stabilizing and reinstating the mask mandate could be postponed.

The county decision is expected Thursday.

She stressed during her presentation, however, that 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.

Previously, Ferrer said the indoor mask mandate would be reinstated if the county remains in the “high” virus activity category—with a new daily virus-related hospital admission rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents. That number as of last Thursday was 11.7 per 100,000.

But the idea of a renewed indoor masking mandate has generated opposition, including from the Los Angeles County Business Federation and county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who said she believes in the effectiveness of masks, but not of mask mandates.

Barger said Tuesday that she does not believe there is any “empirical data” proving that a mask mandate will be more effective than what the county does now, which is strongly recommend masks.

“I am adamantly opposed to mandating the masking because I truly do believe it’s going to have the opposite effect,” Barger said.

Barger earned support Tuesday from Supervisor Janice Hahn, who said she fears imposing a universal mandate “will be very divisive for LA 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.

Ferrer said Tuesday that if the county is at least approaching the 10 per 100,000 residents level by Thursday, it would “trigger a reassessment on the need to reimplement an indoor masking mandate.”

In Long Beach, hospitalizations are increasing but the city does not know the full scope due to a communication breakdown between itself and the state. Health department staff regularly communicate with Long Beach Memorial and St. Mary Medical Center but do not work daily with Los Alamitos and Lakewood Regional medical centers, which are also considered Long Beach–area hospitals.

The city’s coronavirus dashboard has not updated the hospitalization figure since the end of March.

Health officials did not immediately respond to a request for updated Memorial and St. Mary hospitalization data.

The city’s seven-day case rate has skyrocketed in recent weeks, reaching 478.8 on July 20. The seven-day case rate was initially the metric used to determine when to remove the mask mandate—a rate below 50 for two weeks—but the city removed the mandate before that threshold was met.

The city has reported over 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 each of the last three weeks, a dramatic increase from the week of April 11 when it reported only 70.

Throughout the pandemic, coronavirus-related deaths have always trailed weeks behind surges in cases and hospitalizations. Since July 11, the city has reported 15 coronavirus deaths, compared to 14 deaths over the previous eight weeks combined.

To date, Long Beach officials have reported 1,302 coronavirus-related deaths.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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Brandon Richardson is a business reporter, covering everything from real estate and healthcare to the airport and port to city hall and the economy. He is a Long Beach native who has been with the Business Journal since graduating from Long Beach City College in spring 2016 with an associate’s degree in journalism. He is an avid record collector and concert goer.
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