Los Angeles Times
Return to masking? No problem
With COVID-19 infection rates rising, it’s wise for L.A. County to reinstate precautionary measures.
Sunday evening, I attended a wedding at a Temecula winery. The heartfelt ceremony and cocktail hour were outdoors, but dinner and dancing were inside. The hosts had been thoughtful about making this a relatively safe environment. We were required to arrive vaccinated against COVID-19. The indoor area was a large, airy, barn-like structure with the doors left open. The buffet line was outside. My friend, the mother of the bride, assured me that there were tables outdoors for people who chose that. Boxes of masks were set out so that anyone who had forgotten one could feel protected.
My partner and I are among the COVIDcautious. We look for restaurants with outdoor seating. I never gave up wearing masks in the supermarket or any other store. I am what is euphemistically called “not a young woman” and my partner is somewhat older. Though our vaccination status would probably protect us from intensive care, long COVID would be no joke. We’ve managed to remain COVID-free so far as we know.
We decided to take the outdoors-dining option to avoid the 100-plus people inside who were unmasked and chatting animatedly. So did two women who sat at our table. We had a grand time outdoors eating barbecue amid the rolling hills, getting to know our dinner companions, listening to speeches and watching the first dance from just outside the doorway.
When the hora started, the traditional circle dance at Jewish events, we peeked in, our feet wanting to join. But the dance floor was crammed and people were bouncing up and down and yelling with glee — but without masks.
It’s that forever push and pull: We want to live fully. We want to stay safe. Where is the balancing point between the two when it comes to COVID? I felt like the odd woman out, despite my friend’s warm reassurances that I was doing nothing wrong. Neither was she or her daughter for hosting a partially indoor wedding. Each decision has to be made on its specific merits and its pull on our hearts. I flew to my son’s wedding in Virginia in September 2020 despite the lack of a vaccine, because how could I miss it? I took so many precautions that I looked like an astronaut on board the plane, but I went. The Sunday night hora felt less important weighed against the risk.
The next afternoon, my friend sent a group text: A guest at the wedding had just tested positive for COVID.
No one appeared to be surprised. The highly transmissible BA.5 form of the coronavirus has jacked up infection rates again to the point where Los Angeles County officials are preparing for a new indoor mask mandate in public places unless our high community-level infection rates recede before the end of the month. Rates could reach — or even exceed — those of the midwinter surge.
Why wait for a whole lot more cases before acting? UCLA, UC Irvine and others already have reinstated mask mandates. I don’t need to dance at a wedding, but I do need to shop for necessities and I’d like to live a semblance of my normal life. I’d like to not see hospitals hit with another wave of very sick patients as well.
Thanks to vaccines, the rates of lifethreatening cases are much lower than in earlier surges, but that won’t help us much if the actual number of cases grows exponentially. A small percentage of a very big number is still a substantial load of cases. COVID remains among the top causes of death in L.A. County, according to county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. Most of the state — 56 of 58 counties — also have high rates at this point.
No one should just be sitting around waiting to see if rates fall. Masks are plentiful and cheap and they slow the spread of COVID-19. They impose little inconvenience on us.
The county should reinstate the indoor mandate and then watch what happens. High community levels of COVID-19 call for high community levels of cooperation in reducing the possibility that patrons of plays, stores and restaurants might expose others to the virus. There’s a reason why medical offices never stopped requiring masks during the pandemic.
The people of L.A. County know how to do masks and still go about normal life. We’ve got this.
— Karin Klein, a member of the