The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will not enforce a countywide face mask mandate imposed by the County Department of Public Health, the county sheriff said Friday. Instead, the agency will ask the community to voluntarily comply with the, which requires both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents to wear face masks indoors.
California lifted statewide mask mandates for fully vaccinated residents on June 15 as the state began a tiered system of reopening, but on Thursday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced an updated order, which will go into effect Saturday night, to address rapidly increasing community transmission rates for COVID-19 in the county.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva wrote in a statement, "Forcing the vaccinated and those who already contracted COVID-19 to wear face masks indoors is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines."
Villanueva said that although the Department of Public Health has the authority to enforce such an order, the Sheriff's Department would not. He wrote, "The underfunded/defunded Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance."
Over the last week, more than 1,000 cases have been reported in Los Angeles County each day, according to Dr. Muntu Davis, the county's health officer. He warned residents of the more transmissible and deadly Delta strain of the virus, which the CDC estimates is now responsible for nearly 60% of cases in the nation.
Approximately 10.7 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Los Angeles county, the county's Department of Public Health said. Davis said Thursday that overall vaccination numbers are currently "disappointing."
CBS Los Angeles reported this week that all patients currently hospitalized from COVID-19 complications in Los Angeles County were unvaccinated, according to health officials.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said the updated order may be confusing to those skeptical about getting vaccinated. She said, "The mixed messaging of saying that you have to mask when you're vaccinated will tell the unvaccinated, 'Oh, actually the vaccines don't work.'"
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's current recommendations say that fully vaccinated individuals can forego masks in most situations, whether indoors or outdoors and regardless of the activity's size. Despite the emergence of the Delta variant and other strains of concern, the CDC has on their masking guidelines.
Dr. Bob Lahita, the director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Diseases at St. Joseph Health, said more mask mandates should be reinstated throughout the country as national cases rise and dangerous variants spread.
"It's very, very worrisome that we're seeing these spikes and it's clearly the Delta variant that is doing this and then we have a Lambda variant out of Peru which may also cause problems," Lahita told CBS News' Anne Marie Green and Vladimir Duthiers.
He said his biggest concern is breakthrough cases infecting vaccinated people, even though they are less likely to die or be hospitalized from the virus. "I don't have great hope for the fall," Lahita said.
The World Health Organization hasthe approved COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. each respond to all known variants of the virus.