Los Angeles County residents were ordered to take their masks back out on Friday, April 22, as a new local COVID-19 health order went into effect requiring face coverings on all public transportation, including buses, trains, taxis and ride-hailing vehicles.
The order also again requires masks at all covered public transport hubs, including airports and bus terminals.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced the order Thursday, saying it is based on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s view that wearing masks during transportation remains an essential step to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“They’re experts,” Ferrer told reporters during an online briefing. “They’ve decided it’s imperative at this point to have that requirement for public health, and that resonates with us.”
At the urging of the CDC, the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday appealed a ruling by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week that overturned the U.S. government’s rule against wearing masks on public transportation, particularly on board aircraft.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that the CDC had exceeded its authority in issuing the mandate to wear masks on transportation systems. But on Wednesday, the CDC released a statement saying it continues to believe that mandating masks in indoor transportation environments “remains necessary for public health.”
“CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine whether such an order remains necessary,” the agency said in a statement. “CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”
In response to Mizelle’s ruling on Monday, Los Angeles County public transit agencies announced that masks would become optional, including aboard Metrolink commuter trains and on buses and railroads operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Los Angeles International Airport and Hollywood Burbank Airport also announced that masks were optional.
Ferrer said the province’s reorder — which takes effect Friday at 12:01 p.m. — will restore mask orders in all those institutions. The rule does not apply to people aboard aircraft, which are outside the jurisdiction of the province.
It was unclear how the requirement will be enforced at airports. The Transportation Security Administration announced this week that it will no longer enforce rules for wearing masks at airports in response to the federal judge’s ruling.
Officials from both Metro and Metrolink have issued statements saying they would abide by the county’s order and again require masks on board trains and buses from Friday.
Ferrer said she regrets “very, very much” that the new provincial order is likely to cause confusion among residents who feel a sense of “whiplash” due to rapidly changing rules. But she noted that the CDC has never changed its recommendations regarding mask-wearing on public transportation, saying the Florida court ruling was made by “a federal judge with little public health experience.” who questioned the CDC’s authority.
Ferrer said public transport can often be crowded, putting people in cramped environments with sometimes little ventilation, conditions that could fuel the spread of the virus.
She stressed that the province is still seeing “a lot of transmission” of COVID-19, and that the contagious BA.2 subvariant of the virus continues to spread – now accounting for 84% of all local cases undergoing special testing to identify variants . A few offshoots of BA.2 “sublines” have also now been identified, one of which has already been linked to “significant spread” of cases in parts of New York.
While BA.2 has been blamed for the rising number of cases, those cases have still not led to a spike in hospitalizations due to the virus. The number of hospital admissions even continued to fall. But Ferrer said this does not reduce the risk of new and potentially more dangerous variants of the virus developing the more it circulates.
The virus “is still equated with serious illness for some people,” she said. “It can still cause ‘long term COVID’ for a large percentage of people even for people who experience mild illness when they first become infected.”
During the pandemic, Los Angeles County has often imposed stricter COVID mandates than required by the state and federal government. It was one of the first jurisdictions to impose widespread indoor masking mandates, enforcing masking requirements for large-scale outdoor events, even as similar restrictions were relaxed elsewhere.
Hallie Balch of the Republican National Committee issued a statement Friday criticizing the county for reimposing the mask mandate.
“The Democrats in LA County and California like to make rules that they won’t follow just because they can,” Balch said. “They don’t seem to realize that Californians are over COVID regulations, but as long as they continue to ignore what voters want, Republicans will be there to do the real will of the people.”
The province reported another 2,056 infections on Friday, bringing the pandemic’s total to 2,859,799. A further 12 COVID-related deaths were reported Friday, bringing the total death toll to 31,924.
The average daily percentage of people who tested positive for the virus was 1.6% on Friday, slightly less than 1.8% on Thursday.
According to state figures, there were 219 COVID-positive patients in provincial hospitals as of Friday, up from 224 on Thursday. Of those patients, 26 were treated in intensive care, compared to 22 a day earlier.