Pandemic-weary LA County crestfallen over news of masks’ return, mere weeks after restrictions eased – Daily News

on Jul16
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It was in the air on Thursday; July 15, as medical leaders lamented the the reluctance of so many Los Angeles County residents to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, stalling the onset of the much-coveted herd immunity.

It was on the lips of business owners– just starting to see the fruits of returning foot traffic after the human and economic toll of the pandemic — worried what renewed mask-wearing indoors would mean to their clientele.

It was baked into the words of a local city councilman, fed up with public health orders in general.

And it was the first word that occurred to Dr. Thomas Yadegar, as he absorbed the latest county Public Health Order: Effective Sunday, most everybody in L.A. County must wear masks inside anew — vaccinated or not. Just a month from the state’s sweeping elimination of COVID-19-spurred restrictions, the news hit hard.

“It is obviously disappointment … there’s a lot of of people who still have hesitancy about getting the vaccine,” said Yadegar, medical director of the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center.

And it’s that simple, blunt fact that is fueling Yadegar’s concern that the region may be in for an even more protracted battle with sporadic spikes of the virus for some time to come.

“I think, unfortunately, we’re going to have to be dealing with this,” said Yadegar, still fresh from the reminders of when his unit overflowed with people dying and on the verge of death during the worst throes of the pandemic in December and January.

Back then, the worry was over those who were older and who had underlying conditions. But now, Yadegar says the newest patients are younger — 30 to 50 — and unvaccinated.

Just on Sunday, he ordered a a 32-year-old man to be treated with supplemental oxygen after he came into the hospital.

“He said, ‘if he knew that it was going to happen like this, he would have been vaccinated.’ He was pretty sick.”

A shopper wears a face covering while shopping at Best Buy in Santa Clarita, CA Thursday, July 16, 2021. Beginning at 12:59pm on Saturday, residents of Los Angeles County will once again be required to wear face coverings indoors at public places. L.A. County has seen several consecutive days with more than 1,000 new cases reported daily amid a “rapid and sustained” spike in the number of infections. Many shoppers have continued to wear face coverings even though they have not been required to vaccinated individuals. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

And so goes L.A. County’s battle not just with the disease, but with the pushback on immunizations.

Meanwhile, COVID-19’s variants have flourished, leading to the return of the L.A. County Public Health order on masks, which echoed through the region on Thursday — from medical offices and ICU units to restaurants and other businesses, still weary after a year and a half of physical distancing orders.

Dr. Lawrence Sher, who leads the Palos Verdes Medical Group and Peninsula Research Associates, said he supports L.A. County’s move.

Even for the vaccinated, there is still a small risk of serious illness. And when people are in public around strangers, Sher said, it’s better not to take chances.

“It’s important to emphasize to people that they still need to wear their masks when they are around people they don’t know in a crowd,” Sher said earlier this week. “Number one, you don’t know who is vaccinated or not, and you don’t know how long ago they were vaccinated and what vaccine they had.

“There are too many factors,” Sher added. “And besides, if you can eat outside, eat outside. It’s nice out.”

A return to masks indoors was not exactly music to the ears of the region’s businesses, who since June, when cities and counties aligned with the state’s lifting of capacity and distancing mandates, were trying to find a renewed stability.

Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, president and chief executive at Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, said “we would like to be able to not continue to have these mandates, but we understand that with the rising COVID count that we need to be concerned for the safety of our employees and the safety of our customers.”

She added that businesses “are just frustrated that they’re gonna start shutting things down again and the businesses cannot financially handle that. And employees who are now back at work can’t handle going through another round of EDD, especially if there are not any of these subsidies because they may have already exhausted their unemployment.”

Also, there are neighboring counties that don’t require masks in indoor public settings, she added.

“We want to keep business in L.A. County,” she said. “We understand the concern of what’s going on and we want to make sure everyone is safe, so we could continue to keep our business community open and workers employed.”

John Staats, the bar manager at Riviera House in Redondo Beach, was just beginning to see an uptick in business.

“I hadn’t heard about that news (the mask mandate) yet,” said John Staats, the bar manager at Riviera House in Redondo Beach. “But our staff is going to keep wearing masks, so that’s not a huge hindrance to us.”

Following the state’s June 15 reopening, Staats said that business has enjoyed a resurgence.  “The last couple of weeks have been great for business,” he said, “and staff has definitely been reinvigorated with the reopening of our bar seating.”

The news was shaking out at local schools districts and universities, too, as they prepared to return to in-person instruction.

The Los Angeles Unified School District already planned to require everyone to mask up indoors when the fall semester arrived in August, so it didn’t appear that the county’s latest order would change indoor masking requirements for K-12 schools.

California public health officials issued guidance this week that all students and staff, including those who are fully vaccinated, must wear masks inside school buildings. Accommodations can be made for individuals with certain medical conditions by having them wear a non-restrictive alternative such as a face shield with a drape around the bottom, if conditions permit.

In a note to districts Thursday afternoon, L.A. County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo reaffirmed that the county is aligned with state guidelines on mask wearing indoors.

The University of California announced Thursday that it will require all students and staffers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to return to campus for the fall term.

Fueling public health concerns is the mutation known as the Delta variant, which L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said is spreading unnervingly fast. The county has seen a troubling spike in cases, with one week of more than 1,000 new residents testing positive each day — and more than 1,500 new cases on Thursday.

“We need to take action now before we see uncontrollable spread,” she said in a Thursday statement, stressing that the return to masks indoors is only a temporary action, until we can lower our cases and continue getting more people the doses they need.”

It was that kind of action that was always a possibility, said West Covina City Councilman Brian Tabatabai, who has been the lone dissenting vote on the West Covina City Council against the city trying to get its own health department, detaching from the L.A> County Public Health, an effort that is still in progress.

“It’s always been a fragile situation where we’ve always had to be just wary of possibly having to take steps back as we move forward,” he said. “And so, again, it’s just a reminder that science has accomplished something historic with the vaccines, and if we want to get to a space where we no longer have these situations, people who can should go out and get vaccinated.”

The inability to get that “space” will continue to hit the area’s economy hard.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, was blunt about the business ramifications.

“It’s tragic for everyone. It’s tragic for businesses,” he said, “but the fact is, a few people who refuse to get vaccinated are bringing the rest of Los Angeles down.”

Waldman noted that “enforcement is difficult with employees having to get into an argument with someone over wearing a mask in their establishment, and that’s where the problem is.”

“We hear about employees getting attacked for asking people to wear masks,” he said. “If people followed the rules, we would be in a much different situation.”

But Torrance City Councilman Aurelio Mattucci, who has been an outspoken critic of county Public Health officials, said Thursday’s action was further evidence tha Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer should be removed, calling the department under her leadership an “utter failure and a disgrace to our core American values.”

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