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COVID-19 Cases Are Rising In LA County, But Don't Expect New Indoor Mask Requirements — Yet

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L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. (Screenshot via YouTube courtesy L.A. County)
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COVID-19 cases have been rising in Los Angeles County — but not enough to warrant the return of indoor mask requirements, according to county officials.

In her weekly COVID-19 update, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said new cases logged by the county continue to go up, with 1,214 new cases reported as of Thursday.

But hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 have remained relatively stable, she said, and community levels remain low according to federal guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Asked if she anticipated a return to indoor masking requirements, Ferrer said it wouldn't be off the table if things were to worsen significantly — but at this point, we're not there yet.

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"If we were to move back to a high level of concern, of a … high community level, we would go ahead and immediately reinstate that masking requirement," Ferrer said. But, she added, this would depend on the situation.

"One situation that comes to mind is if we have a new variant of concern that's really evading vaccine protections, then you want to go ahead and use a next level of protection,” she said, “which is putting those masks back on."

More Cases At Schools, But Still ‘Very Low’ Numbers

For now, though, the county will stick with masks being optional indoors, as it has since last month.

Since then, there has been an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks at local schools. The most recent count at county schools: 114 positive cases among staff and 521 cases among students, compared with 91 and 372 the previous week. But despite this uptick, "those [numbers] remain very low and relatively stable," Ferrer said.

Starting Friday, the county will align itself with the state's guidance and remove the quarantine requirement for people who are "close contacts" of an infected person, regardless of vaccination status, so long as they mask and test.

In spite of the more relaxed rules, Ferrer stressed that Angelenos should continue to take precautions against infection, and especially to get their vaccines.

"Some folks could interpret this information as a good reason to either not get vaccinated or not get boosted," Ferrer said. "I think that would be unfortunate because the data doesn't support that conclusion. Getting infected carries with it the risk of getting pretty sick, getting long COVID, and even dying."

Very Few Have Gotten Second Boosters

Last month, the federal CDC updated its guidance for second booster shots, allowing adults 50 and older who are not immunocompromised to get a second booster shot at least four months after their first booster.

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So far, only about 12% of county residents over 65 and 7% of those 50-64 have obtained second boosters, but Ferrer said "we're hoping that over the next few weeks, we see more significant increases as we, with our providers and our partners, work to expand awareness."

She also acknowledged that since the current increase is fairly recent, we may not have the full picture yet.

"We may not be seeing a corresponding increase in hospitalizations because of the customary delay in hospitalizations increasing after cases increase," Ferrer said. "But this could also indicate that a smaller number of those infected are requiring hospital care today."

Ferrer shared data showing that the highly contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant is now the dominant strain in the county, making up nearly 69% of sequenced specimens as of the end of March, a trend reflected nationwide. A new "hybrid" subvariant known as XE has not yet been detected in the county, she said.

Ferrer also urged those traveling for spring break and spring holidays to be cautious.

"If you're planning to celebrate Ramadan, Easter, Passover, spring break, by gathering with family, friends, or other loved ones, this is a good time to make sure you're up to date with your vaccines, or to start that series," she said.

What questions do you have about the coronavirus and/or how it’s affecting your life in Southern California?