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Indoor Masks May Return To LA If COVID Hospitalizations Keep Rising

A large red and blue sign outside a grocery store shows a stop sign, a face mask, and large block letters reading "masks required." An older woman walks into the store wearing a face mask, short white hair, a white dress shirt and jeans.
Mandatory mask signs could reappear at stores and other indoor venues in early July.
(Chris Delmas
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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If the upward trend of coronavirus-positive patients continues, a public indoor mask mandate could return to Los Angeles County in early July. The steady rise in cases and hospitalizations is being blamed on the highly transmissible omicron variants, according to County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

“We've got to get comfortable with the idea that when numbers don't look great, it's really sensible to layer in some of the additional protections while we try to understand what might be going on with these emerging sub-lineages of omicron,” Ferrer said at a Thursday press conference.

Modeling released by the L.A. County Public Health Department shows a trajectory that would move the county into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s high community level around July 6.

The CDC recommends universal indoor masking when a county enters the high COVID-19 community level — the most severe in a three-tier system.

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On average, 544 people with COVID-19 are hospitalized each day in L.A. County. The seven-day average daily case rate also increased and is now at 48 cases per 100,000 residents, and test positivity is up to 4.7%.

The return of an indoor mask mandate is not a foregone conclusion, Ferrer said.

“At this point, we have an opportunity again [to] slow transmission and we won't have as many hospitalizations. We have time to go ahead and do that. But it will take everybody working a little bit harder at slowing down that transmission,” Ferrer said.

A line graph showing an upward trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations. If the rate of rise continues, an indoor mask mandate may be triggered in early July 2022.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Public Health Dept.)
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Since last week, the average number of daily new cases jumped 13% — about 4,900 people test positive each day. That’s a whopping 93% higher than a month ago. Ferrer said the case number is an undercount since it does not include positive over-the-counter tests that are generally not reported to the health department. She estimates cases could be three times higher.

“On any given day, right now we're likely averaging about 15,000 people that are newly positive. That's a sobering number, but it's also our reality. Lots and lots of transmission,” Ferrer said.

Memorial Day gatherings may have contributed to rising cases. There was a dip around the holiday weekend, likely because people skipped testing. Cases are increasing in almost every category. Workplace clusters of three or more cases are twice as high as a month ago, while in the past week schools reported 12 classroom outbreaks and 15 outbreaks related to end-of-year field trips, school performances and special events, such as prom, with more than 750 cases among students and staff.

The highest case rate in the county is among teens ages 12 to 17, with 762 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 teens. Ferrer said it’s more than doubled in the past month, and she reiterated again the importance of getting children vaccinated.

“Over the past three months, unvaccinated children ages 12 to 17 in L.A. County were nearly four times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated children in the same age group,” Ferrer said.

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Masks are already required in some places in L.A. County, including on public transit and transportation hubs such as airports. A separate health order requires masks to be worn in high-risk places including emergency shelters, doctors' offices and hospitals, homeless shelters and prisons, and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

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