Indoor mask mandates may come to Los Angeles County earlier than expected if COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise, according to Los Angeles County Department of Public Health projections.
The factor that would determine an indoor mask mandate’s return is the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 community levels, which are measured by hospital admissions per 100,000 people. Right now, the county has 8.4 admissions per 100,000 people, which is up from last week’s 8.1 per 100,000.
If the county breaches 10 admissions per 100,000 it will move into the CDC’s “high” level, which will most likely trigger an indoor mask mandate if it says in that category for two consecutive weeks.
However, hospitalization data is now being determined differently. According to Barbara Ferrer, director of Public Health, the stark split in hospitalization rates between Orange County and L.A. County has changed the way this data will be reported from now on.
Normally hospitalization data is geographically determined by a CDC’s health service district, which in this region’s case includes Orange County, but since Orange County’s hospitalization rates are considerably higher than L.A. County’s, Public Health has decided to exclude them from future data reports.
“This approach was not initially problematic, as the L.A. County and Orange County metrics were relatively similar,” said Ferrer. “[But], there are currently big enough differences in the hospital metrics that it does make most sense to use the L.A. County-specific hospital data.”
Ferrer said the move makes the most sense as these are the metrics used to gauge stress on the health care system, which in turn is being used to determine if an indoor mask mandate will return. Since the summer months, admission rates between L.A. County and Orange County hospitals began to gradually split, resulting in the considerable difference seen today. Currently Orange County’s hospitalization rates are 13.3 per 100,000.
It is possible that if Public Health did not decide to exclude Orange County’s data, an indoor mask mandate here could have happened much quicker. But, regardless of the move, the acceleration of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 has still moved the projected date of when L.A. County will move into the CDC’s “high” category up to July 14. Last week it was projected to be July 19.
“We can’t predict with certainty what the future hospitalization trend will look like,” said Ferrer. “However, it is looking more likely, as cases and admissions have continued to increase, that we’ll enter the high community level designation later this month.”
According to a press statement released Friday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county are the highest they’ve been since March and deaths are the highest they’ve been since February.
“I send my deepest sympathies and wishes of peace and comfort to the many families who have lost a loved one from COVID-19,” said Ferrer. “With increasing rates of transmission associated with highly infectious subvariants, that evade some of the previous acquired immunity from vaccines and previous COVID infections, we are all dealing with elevated risk.”
Last week, Public Health announced that the percent of specimen sequences that were being identified as a new variant of concern was 71%. Anything over 20% is considered “high.”
This week, Public Health said it was zeroing in on specific variants for analyzation – BA.4 and BA.5, as these account for 40% of new specimens sequenced. Ferrer reiterated what she felt was the best way to combat the rise in cases.
“To reduce stress on the health care system and prevent the worst outcomes of COVID, we can also get vaccinated and boosted, and help those around us get their vaccinations and boosters,” said Ferrer. “And, for those who do get infected, immediately accessing oral medications if eligible can prevent many from developing severe illness.”