Masks being worn on the UC San Diego campus. Photo by Chris Stone

Los Angeles County will reimpose its mask mandate Saturday night in the latest sign of the struggle with an alarming rise in coronavirus cases tied to the highly contagious Delta variant.

The county, home to 10 million people and the nation’s second-largest city, is one of several jurisdictions to recommend or mandate wearing masks or other pandemic restrictions in recent days as cases rise to worrisome levels in many parts of the U.S.

“We’re requiring masking for everyone while indoors at public settings & businesses, regardless of vaccination status so that we can stop the increased level of transmission we’re seeing,” according to a county Department of Public Health Twitter post Thursday.

San Diego County has resumed weekday reporting of COVID case numbers after a switch to weekly reports earlier this month. The number of new COVID-19 cases in the San Diego region has risen to more than 200 infections for seven consecutive days, but it’s unclear if county officials are prepared to take the same step as Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County mandate begins late Saturday, one minute before midnight, the agency said. It covers any indoor public establishment, including retail shops, grocery stores, restaurants and workplaces. Indoor dining will remain open, but customers will have to remain masked while they are not eating or drinking.

The announcement came on the seventh straight day in which more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases were been reported in the county. On Thursday, Los Angeles County counted 1,537 new infections, the highest number since early March.

Nine new COVID-19 deaths were reported Wednesday, and 452 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus. The number of people hospitalized is now double the number reported when COVID health restrictions were lifted statewide on June 15.

The county’s Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis, said Davis said the rate of virus spread in the Los Angeles region has officially risen from moderate to substantial, with infections five times more likely to occur among unvaccinated residents.

“Wearing a mask when indoors with others reduces the risk of both getting and transmitting the virus,” Davis said. “Masking indoors must again become a normal practice by all, regardless of vaccination status so we can stop the trends and level of transmission we are currently seeing.”

The masking order will remain in place “until we see improvements” in case transmission, he added.

Asked if the county might consider re-implementing other restrictions – such as capacity limits and physical distancing – Davis said, “Everything is on the table if things continue to get worse.”

Currently, 69% of Los Angeles County residents aged 16 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 61% are fully vaccinated. Among those aged 65 and older, 88% have received at least one dose, and 78% are fully vaccinated.

Also on Thursday, Sacramento County recommended that masks be worn indoors even by people who are vaccinated. Austin, Texas, on Thursday urged people who are not vaccinated or otherwise at high-risk of COVID-19 infections to avoid travel, indoor gatherings, dining out and shopping, and to wear masks.

Earlier this week, Yolo County also recommended indoor masking, and in Springfield, Missouri, children and teachers have been required to wear masks during summer school.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show high levels of coronavirus transmission in numerous states, including Missouri, Mississippi, Florida, Nevada and Utah.

Across the country, health officials urged residents who have not yet done so to become vaccinated. Vaccines are approved and available for all, including people as young as 12 years old.

– Reuters and wire services contributed to this report.

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