By Jim Holt
Senior Investigative Reporter
When the first day of spring arrives, it might just be the first day L.A. County residents get to be indoors without a mask.
During her weekly update on the state of the pandemic in Los Angeles County, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer cited mid-March as the date indoor mask mandates would be lifted if dramatic drops in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue their steep decline.
“If we can maintain our current rate of decline, we could reach moderate transmission as early as mid-March,” Ferrer said Thursday. “Given our current trajectory, I do think this is feasible.”
Ferrer kicked off her latest update on the pandemic upbeat, noting: “I’m excited to be giving our first post-surge media briefing.”
“We consider L.A. County to be ending the winter surge when we have fewer than 2,500 hospitalizations for seven consecutive days,” she said. “Last Thursday, our hospitalizations dropped to under 2,500.”
“And since then, our daily count has stayed below that. So, I’m very pleased and relieved to share that we’ve met that milestone.”
“We’re reaching the end of our devastating winter surge,” Ferrer said. “And, this means that we’ve successfully reduced the spread of COVID-19 in L.A. County to a level where our health care system is able to return to customary services.”
3,312 new positive cases
The latest Department of Public Health numbers show 3,312 new positive cases Thursday and 67 new deaths due to COVID-19.
As of Feb. 10, 34% of 5- to 11-year-olds and 84% of 12- to 17-year-olds had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 26% of 5- to 11-year-olds and 76% of 12- to 17-year-olds were fully vaccinated.
Unvaccinated children ages 5-11, Ferrer noted, were 2.5 times more likely to be infected when compared to those who were fully vaccinated.
For those ages 12-17, she added, vaccinated teens were almost three times less likely to be infected when compared to those who were unvaccinated.
Between Feb. 7 and 11, nearly 477,000 tests were administered at TK-12 schools across the county. Test positivity declined by 90% since the beginning of January to 1.5%.
“This remarkable decline likely reflects lower rates of community transmission as well as the impact of mitigation strategies that schools are using to reduce transmission,” Ferrer said.
Of the 67 new deaths, one person was between the ages of 30-49, six were between the ages of 50-64, 26 were between the ages of 65-79, and 25 were aged 80 years or older. Of the 67 newly reported deaths, 49 had underlying health conditions.
Moderate transmission goal
“Still, we’re going to need to stay focused,” Ferrer reminded reporters monitoring the remote meeting. “Currently the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advises that masking remain in place in all indoor settings until community transmission reaches a moderate level.”
“L.A. County is fully aligned with this recommendation and will lift the indoor masking requirement once L.A. County has remained in moderate transmission for seven consecutive days.”
Moderate transmission is defined as when the seven-day cumulative case rate falls below this threshold.
The current seven-day cumulative case rate is 258 cases per 100,000 residents and that is considered “high transmission,” Ferrer said.
Eroding trust issue
County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who hosted the remotely held meeting, was asked about “eroding trust,” referring to recent comments by fellow supervisors reflecting on public trust waning in light of apparent inconsistencies over mask-wearing and mask mandates.
“Focus on the data,” Mitchell said. “None of us, as parents, want our children compromised in any way. That includes making sure they remain as safe as possible.”
“This notion of trust is a moveable line.”
Responding to the same issue of trust, Ferrer said that “there are lots of parents, teachers and staff and lots of workers who contact us and want masks to stay.”
“We hear from hundreds and hundreds who want more protection,” she said. “Life would be a lot easier if everybody was completely united about what the path forward looked like… but we shouldn’t ignore any of the voices because some of voices are louder than others.”