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TSA, American Airlines hit by COVID outbreaks at LAX

The TSA at LAX is grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19, according to Los Angeles County Public Health officials.

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health's listing of active outbreaks at non-residential settings, a total of 220 workers with the Transportation Security Administration has tested positive for COVID in the last week.

The numbers are made up of official lab-confirmed cases, and may not include results from rapid tests taken at home.

In fact, a number of departments at LAX are experiencing large outbreaks, including American Airlines, which has reported a total of 154 infections; and Southwest Airlines with 28 infections, according to the Department of Public Health.

The outbreaks are notable because a mask mandate remains in place at LAX, and has been a requirement since the start of the pandemic. However, enforcement is spotty, and passengers are no longer required to wear masks on their flights.

Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino are now all considered to be in the high transmission category per CDC standards. The increase in COVID rates has been fueled by BA.5, a variant associated with high rates of reinfection, even among people who have been fully vaccinated and boosted.

Public health officials could reimpose a mask mandate in Los Angeles County as soon as this Friday if infections, hospitalizations, and deaths remain high. Last Friday, the 7-day case rate in Los Angeles County increased by 30%, with 481 cases per 100,000 people — higher than the case rate seen in February during the Omicron winter surge, according to the Department of Public Health.

However, business owners are pushing back on reinstating a mask mandate, saying it will hurt business recovery and confuse people, possibly driving them to businesses in other counties. In an open letter, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger says she believes the current wave of infections shows that vaccines and therapeutics are the best weapon against the virus -- not face masks.

"I have not seen any empirical data that conclusively shows that masking mandates make a difference in decreasing or stopping COVID-19 transmission rates," she wrote in her letter.

This article originally appeared on CBS News

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