Los Angeles County could be the first of many dominoes to fall, some experts predict.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in almost every state, it’s fair to wonder if recently lifted restrictions and mandates will be reintroduced. Specifically, what about masks? Will those vaccinated be required to wear face coverings in public as the Delta variant of the virus continues to spread throughout the country? And what does this mean for dining out? Are restaurants going to have to close dining rooms again, or can consumers expect a mask-free environment when they go out?

If we look to Los Angeles County as a harbinger, you might want to dig that mask out of the drawer and get ready to wear it when you’re headed out to eat.

On Sunday, Los Angeles County began requiring people, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to wear masks while in public spaces indoors. The order requires masks to be worn in all indoor public spaces, which includes restaurants and bars. Although customers may take their masks off while eating and drinking, they will be required to have them on at all other times during their visit.

“I’m not pleased that we have to go back to using the masks in this manner,” Hilda Solid, chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, told ABC News’ “This Week.”

“But nonetheless, it’s going to save lives. And right now, that to me is what is most important.”

Current U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy echoed this sentiment on the same program. “It’s very reasonable for counties to take more mitigation measures like the mask rules you see coming out in L.A.,” Murthy said. “I anticipate that will happen in other parts of the country, too.”

Former Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams tweeted Saturday that areas experiencing an increase in positivity rates should advise their communities to get vaccinated while continuing to wear their masks until the positivity rate declines.

New Yorkers who dine out won’t have to use their masks just yet, according to Mayor de Blasio, who believes continued vaccination is the best way to combat the spike in cases.

After Mark Levine, who chairs the New York City Council health committee, called for the renewal of an indoor mask mandate this past weekend, de Blasio shut down the suggestion, stating that while masks have value, they are not the answer to the problem.

“Masks are not going at the root of the problem,” de Blasio said during a news conference. “Vaccination is.”

But the timing of L.A. County’s announcement coupled with the rise in positive cases attributed to the Delta variant sent stocks tumbling Monday, a worrying sign for investors and business owners. After seeing stocks surge in the wake of restrictions and mask mandates being lifted, the downward trend provides an unwelcome shift. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 2.1 percent, its sharpest decline since October.

One health expert says that although we should be cautious, he does not think counties will have to reimpose caps on dining capacity.

“I think the economy needs to go on,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco, told the Los Angeles Times. “Enough people are vaccinated.”

Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, an epidemiologist at UCLA, shared a similar point of view with the publication, saying he did not think local officials would have to restrict business capacity. “I do not anticipate we would have to go to those more extreme measures,” he said.  

Earlier this week, a Federal Judge ruled that the University of Indiana was allowed to require their students be vaccinated before returning to campus, a sign that mandates related to COVID aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Indiana is just one of hundreds of colleges and universities requiring students to get vaccinated before returning to campus.

So, what does this mean for people looking to head out to their favorite restaurant or bar? If you live in Los Angeles, you will definitely need your mask. San Francisco and Sacramento have urged their communities to wear masks when out in public, but none have mandated it like L.A.. In the Midwest, St. Louis has also recommended wearing masks when out in public.

While we all await a return to normalcy, it is best to be prepared. That goes for restaurants as well as customers, as all parties scramble to stay on top of ever-changing mandates.

Consumer Trends, Feature