Mask mandates make a return - along with controversy
Dan Diamond
July 19, 2021·8 min read
A man wears an American flag face mask on July 19, 2021 on a street in Hollywood, California, on the second day of the return of the indoor mask mandate in Los Angeles County due to a spike in coronavirus cases. - The US surgeon general on July 18 defended a renewed mask mandate in Los Angeles, saying other areas may have to follow and adding that he is "deeply concerned" about the Covid-19 outlook in the fall. LA County reported another 1,233 Covid-19 cases, the 11th consecutive day the number has topped 1,000. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated individuals didn't need to wear masks in most settings, a growing number of experts are warning it's time to put them back on.
First, there was Los Angeles County, where the rising menace posed by the delta variant of the coronavirus prompted health officials to reimpose a mask mandate. Then, Bay Area health officers on Friday recommended that residents of seven counties and the city of Berkeley, Calif., resume wearing masks indoors. Mask mandates are being discussed, too, in coronavirus hot spots such as Arkansas and Missouri, where cases have sharply increased in recent weeks and many residents remain unvaccinated.
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"Universal masking indoors is a way of taking care of each other while we get more people vaccinated," said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which last week moved to reinstate an indoor mask mandate. "It really doesn't disrupt any business practices. It allows us to remain fully open - while we acknowledge that the delta variant [is] spreading like wildfire here."
And the nation's current and former surgeon generals warned the nation should brace for a broader return to mask-wearing.
"We need to prepare the public for what could be, again, a return to some of these mitigation measures," former surgeon general Jerome Adams told Indianapolis TV station WISH-TV on Sunday, highlighting a resurgence of the virus across the Midwest. Adams, an appointee of former president Donald Trump, called on the CDC to "hit the reset button" and once again recommend widespread mask-wearing as coronavirus cases spike.
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But the growing calls to reinstate mask mandates - echoed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which Monday called for everyone over the age of 2 to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status - renewed a cultural and health flash point a year and a half after the virus landed in the United States.
"We need to be reopening our state, not reimposing unnecessary restrictions," Kevin Faulconer, the Republican former San Diego mayor now running for California governor, wrote on Twitter last week. The Los Angeles County sheriff last week said he would refuse to enforce the local masking mandate, and Republicans nationally took aim at existing protections.
"In a free county people will evaluate their personal risk factors and are smart enough to ultimately make medical decisions like wearing a mask themselves," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said in a statement last week, introducing legislation that would ban mask mandates on planes and public transportation.
The daily average of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases has risen in the past month, from 11,855 on June 19 to more than 34,000 on Monday, according to The Washington Post's seven-day average of coronavirus cases. Experts on coronavirus transmission say masks remain a crucial tool to protect tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans - and even vaccinated people, with growing evidence of breakthrough infections in some fully immunized adults, although health officials have said most people who have died or been hospitalized with covid-19 in recent weeks were unvaccinated.