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LA County Moves Closer To Mask Mandate As Hospitalizations Increase

A white sign with black letters says "face coverings required" with the illustration of a person wearing a mask.
A sign is posted about required face coverings in Grand Central Market on July 19, 2021.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images)
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Weeks of high COVID-19 case counts are sending increasing numbers of people to hospitals in Los Angeles County, where the number of positive patients topped 600 for a second day in a row.

While there was a slight decline in reported cases in the last week, health officials still reported an average of about 4,700 new coronavirus infections a day.

“Given the fluctuations, however, in our reported cases over the past few weeks, it's still too early to say if this slight decline is going to continue,” said County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a Thursday press conference.

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.

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The seven-day average daily case rate decreased slightly and is now at 46 cases per 100,000 residents, while test positivity rose to 8.2%. An average of seven deaths were reported each day last week.

If the upward trend of coronavirus-positive patients continues at the same pace, the county will move into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ‘high’ virus activity category in late June.

A line graph showing new COVID-19 cases may have leveled off in the past two weeks.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Public Health Dept. )

Ferrer said if the county remains in the ‘high’ category for two straight weeks, a public indoor mask mandate will be reimposed. That would include offices, schools, retail stores, factories and event venues.

But there’s no reason why people should wait for a mandate to wear a mask indoors, she said.

“Everybody who's indoors when they're around other people should have a well-fitting, high filtration mask on. There is a lot of virus circulating. Until we get to a much lower rate of transmission, there's no reason not to put a mask on when you're indoors,” Ferrer said.

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.

L.A. County is currently in the CDC’s ‘medium’ level of COVID-19 activity. It will move into the ‘high’ category if the average daily rate of new COVID positive hospital admissions rises above 10 per 100,000 residents, or if the percentage of staffed hospital beds occupied by patients with COVID tops 10%.

A line graph showing projected COVID-19 positive patients topping 10 per 100,000 residents in late June, 2022.
Courtesy of the L.A. County Public Health Dept. )
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The figures have both been slowly rising over the past several weeks, with the rate of new admissions reaching 7.3 per 100,000 residents as of Thursday. The portion of hospital beds in the county occupied by virus patients was 3.5% as of Thursday.

The highly transmissible omicron variants continue to fuel high transmission in L.A. County, showing just how infectious the current omicron variants and sub-lineages are, Ferrer said.

The CDC estimates BA.4 and BA.5 combined account for 22% of positive cases. Ferrer called it a ‘substantial increase’ from 1% a month ago.

There is also concern that BA.4 and BA.5 can reinfect people who were previously infected by other omicron subvariants, Ferrer said.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.