LA County readies mask mandate for offices, retailers next week

Business group pleads for voluntary masking

BizFed's Tracy Hernandez and the public health director for LA county Barbara Ferrer
BizFed's Tracy Hernandez and the public health director for LA county Barbara Ferrer (Livecast Screenshot, BizFed, Getty)

Los Angeles County may once again require masks worn inside offices, shops, restaurants, bars, manufacturing facilities, schools and indoor events. But business leaders are crying foul.

If Covid-19 transmission levels remain high, a universal indoor mask mandate could be reimposed as early as July 29, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said it is “highly likely” the county will remain in a “high” state of coronavirus transmission next week, which would trigger a reinstatement of the county’s indoor mask mandate.

But if there’s a steep drop in transmission numbers, she said, the county may be hesitant about requiring indoor masks.

“Of all the tools we have used in this pandemic to counter the spread of COVID, indoor masking is one of the simplest, and turns out to be very effective,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer has long said masks are a way of slowing virus transmission and preventing hospitals from becoming overburdened. At the same time, dozens of counties across the state have moved into the “high” transmission category, while Los Angeles is the only one to face a new mask mandate.

The last mandate was imposed by the county in July 2021, with at least 20 counties following suit.

But the Los Angeles County Business Federation, a coalition of more than 215 chambers of commerce and other business organizations, called on the county to issue a mask advisory that encourages voluntary masking.

BizFed said an indoor mandate would put businesses in L.A. County at an unfair disadvantage because neighboring counties would not have the same policy in place. It also raised concerns about mask enforcement, since customers can be combative.

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“This is not a debate about choosing between lives and livelihoods,” Tracy Hernandez, founding CEO of BizFed, said in a statement. “This is a discussion about educating and empowering Angelenos to make smart choices about protecting their health, our workers and the region’s collective ability to weather this latest wave of infections.”

Masks are already required in healthcare facilities, transit hubs, buses, trains, airports, prisons, jails and homeless shelters.

A universal mandate would extend the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared office spaces, manufacturing facilities, retail stores, indoor events, indoor restaurants and bars and schools.

Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, chief executive of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, said business owners are concerned that customers, especially from outside the county, will be unaware of a new mask rule.

And if the mandate is lifted when hospitalization numbers drop, she said, the rule change will leave the public confused.

“We can’t keep going back and forth,” Hoffman Vanyek told the newspaper. “We need some stability to keep moving our businesses forward.”

Dana Bartholomew

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