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'Not backed by science': L.A. County sheriff will not enforce mask mandate

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he "will not expend our limited resources" to ensure residents are following the order. He instead asked for voluntary compliance.
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he will not enforce the reinstated indoor mask mandate because it contradicts guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a statement Friday, Villanueva said the department is already underfunded and he "will not expend our limited resources" to ensure residents are following the order. He instead asked for voluntary compliance.

"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," he said.

Villanueva went on to say that while the county Department of Public Health has the authority to enforce the order, he encourages the agency to "work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors and law enforcement to establish mandates that are both achievable and supported by science."

California reopened its economy last month. After a rise in coronavirus cases, public health officials announced Thursday that all residents of the most populous county in the nation would be required to wear a mask while indoors. The mandate — fueled by the quickening spread of the delta variant — goes into effect late Saturday and will apply to everyone regardless of their vaccination status. The Department of Public Health said there will be a few exceptions to the order.

"The alarming increases in cases, positivity rates and the increase in hospitalizations signals immediate action must be taken to slow the spread of Covid-19," county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a statement. "Otherwise, we may quickly see more devastating illness and death among the millions of residents."

The county recorded 1,902 new Covid-19 cases and six deaths on Friday. The Department of Public Health said in a news release that the new cases show "alarming trends of increased community spread."

Of those new cases, 71 percent are among people ages 18 to 49, according to the department. Over 450 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, more than double the 216 hospitalizations reported a month ago.

The county's test positivity rate has also increased to 3.8 percent. In early June that rate was near 0.4 percent, the department said.

The CDC has said fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear a mask indoors or social distance. The vaccine does not fully protect people from contracting Covid-19, but it can prevent those who are fully vaccinated from getting sick or severely ill.

Public health officials in Los Angeles County said new coronavirus cases among fully vaccinated residents are low but are still a concern. Of the more than 4 million fully vaccinated people, there have been 4,122 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, the news release stated.

"Without physical distancing and capacity limits during a time of substantial community spread, masking by everyone indoors is a simple and effective action we all can take to lower risk of transmission while limiting disruption to normal business capacity and operations," Davis said in the statement. "The urgency to get more people vaccinated remains high with this level of spread. For everyone whose eligible and still waiting to get vaccinated, the time to do it is now.”

Many people criticized the county's order, with some labeling it as a step backward.

“Vaccinated individuals don't need to wear masks, medical experts have made that clear,” Kevin Faulconer, who is also looking to unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom, said in a statement. “We need to be reopening our state, not reimposing unnecessary restrictions. If Gavin Newsom had any common sense, he'd step up and oppose this, that's what I'll do as governor.”

Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympian and current gubernatorial candidate, tweeted: "Here comes Gavin’s shutdown 2.0."

Newsom did not issue the mask mandate and has not commented on the order.

Seven other California counties, including San Francisco and Alameda, issued mask recommendations Friday in response to Los Angeles’ change in policy. Sacramento and Yolo counties issued indoor mask recommendations earlier in the week, even before Los Angeles tightened its restrictions.