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Could indoor mask mandates return to the DMV?

Public health leaders say with COVID cases climbing slowly in our region, they're just keeping an eye out.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Miguel Martinez Bortes, a amiable great-grandfather from Alexandria, had a warning Friday for all of us.

He and his beloved wife spent 10 days in the hospital with COVID. "I suffered in my bones and my flesh the seriousness of this disease," he said.

Mandate or not, he wears his mask now, indoors and out. "I don't want anyone to suffer that ever. It was terrible. I'm so sorry," he said, breaking in tears as he talked to a reporter on a busy street in Rosslyn.

The U.S. is headed in the wrong direction on COVID, with an alarming rise in a number of metrics, including hospitalizations, which are up 35 percent in a week.

On Saturday, Los Angeles County will reimpose its indoor mask mandate for everyone -- even the vaccinated.

But with rate climbing far more slowly in our area, it's still unlikely we'll see similar restrictions.

"The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Commonwealth are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the topic of indoor mask use. VDH is always evaluating its policies and recommendations in light of the latest science," said Logan Anderson, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health.

"State public health officials are carefully monitoring and tracking data and key COVID-19 health metrics, including variants. For additional information on face coverings in Maryland, please see our latest face covering recommendation. We continue to urge all eligible Marylanders to get vaccinated. The majority of deaths, new cases and those hospitalized with COVID-19 complications are among unvaccinated individuals," said Charlie Gischler, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health.

But in L.A., which has seen 1,000 new cases a day for each of the last seven days, the health director is imposing new restrictions. "Masking indoors must again become a practice by all, regardless of health status," said Dr. Muntu Davis.

Cases are slowly rising in DC, Maryland and Virginia, but none of those jurisdictions suggested to us that they might follow LA's lead and reimpose mask restrictions.

"There's always a chance if cases go up and infection rates are increasing, then we have to do something to mitigate that. … Right now the focus needs to be on getting people vaccinated. That's our path to having no masks. That's our path to reopening schools safely. It's the vaccine is our pathway through this pandemic," said Brian Castrucci, an epidemiologist and president of the de Beaumont Foundation, a Bethesda-based non-profit focused on public health.

Any new mandates are likely to face resistance. "Most of us are vaccinated. We need to let our bodies and personal accountability kick in," said a woman in Rosslyn who didn't want to give her name.

Virginia's governor says with nearly three quarters of the population having received one dose and 63% fully vaccinated, the Commonwealth is in a good place.

And just over a week from now, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser plans to lift the city's long state of emergency.