LA County sheriff says reinstated mask mandate ‘not backed by science’

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said on Friday that his department would not expend the resources to enforce an indoor mask mandate in the county, adding that the measure was “not backed by science.”

“Forcing the vaccinated and those who already contracted COVID-19 to wear masks indoors is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines,” Villanueva said in a statement.

He said that while the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) had authority to enforce their mandate, “the underfunded/defunded Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance.”

“We encourage the DPH to work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors and law enforcement to establish mandates that are both achievable and supported by science,” he added.

On Thursday the county’s Department of Public Health issued an indoor mask mandate, a measure that applyies to everyone regardless of their vaccination status.

The department said that the indoor mask mandate was warranted because the county saw a seven-fold increase in the number of COVID-19 cases between when the county reopened on June 15 and on Thursday.

According to the department’s data, the county saw 210 new cases on June 15 compared to 1,537 new cases on Thursday, the highest number recorded since mid-March.

“Because of this rapid rise, as well as the increasing presence of the more easily transmitted Delta variant of the virus, and the millions of people potentially at risk of infection, together we must reduce our risk of infection and our risk for potentially infecting others,” the department said in a news release.

The mandate becomes effective at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, about a month since the county had lifted a previous mask mandate.

The recent announcement comes as unvaccinated pockets of the United States are seeing a surge in cases due to the highly transmissible delta variant originally found in India. 

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 56 percent of the total U.S. population has had at least one dose of the vaccine and 48 percent are fully vaccinated. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky maintained that the agency would not be changing its masking recommendations, but said on Friday that local officials were encouraged to consider preventative measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“These decisions have to be made at the local level,” Walensky said during a White House briefing. “If you have areas of low vaccination and high case rates, then I would say local policymakers might consider whether masking at that point would be something that would be helpful for their community until they scale up their vaccination rates.” 

As it stands, the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks in most settings except for in travel spaces like planes and trains. 

The Hill has reached out to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for comment.

Tags COVID-19 mask mandate Rochelle Walensky Vaccine

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