Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced Thursday that universal indoor mask mandates will not return to Los Angeles County — for now.
“There has been a daily steady decline in cases since July 23, potentially signaling the beginning of a downward trend in cases,” said Ferrer. “We’re glad to see this. It would be a welcome relief if this current surge has peaked.”
Daily hospitalizations have declined for the first time since April, according to the Public Health Department, and Ferrer said it’s reasonable to assume this will lead to further decline in this metric in the coming weeks.
“As I noted last week, any indication that the county would soon be moving to the medium community level would be a good reason not to move forward with universal indoor masking, which is what we’re doing today,” said Ferrer. “We will be pausing and not moving forward at this time.”
Ferrer said the incorporation of new and more updated county data was used to determine where L.A. County stands in terms of cases and hospitalizations, as the Centers for Disease Control’s data was not as current and thus may not have given an accurate picture to determine the necessity of a mandate.
The current seven-day average for COVID-related admissions for L.A. County is at 9.8 per 100,000 as of July 27. This is in contrast to the CDC’s data, which would have kept L.A. County in the “high tier” at 11.5 per 100,000 as of July 25.
Ferrer said she anticipates the CDC to move L.A. County into the “medium” tier next week, if the downward trend continues.
Continued indoor masking is still advised as transmission rates continue to be high and Ferrer still urged people to wear masks indoors even though there is no mandate to.
“The continued high rate of transmission does call on all of us to wear masks indoors and public spaces in order to help limit spread,” said Ferrer.
Although case rates and hospitalizations have declined, there are other statistics that concern Public Health. One is the weekly death rate, which has actually increased in the past week to an average of about 15 per day, although this may be a lagging indicator.
Ferrer paused during her briefing to address this statistic.
“The most disheartening disinformation being circulated is the idea that almost no one dies from COVID now,” said Ferrer. “This ignores the very real suffering and pain of those who are losing family members to COVID and it ignores the brutal mortality rate associated with this pandemic.”
Another is the rise of the BA.5 subvariant, which has jumped from being found in 67% of specimens two weeks ago to 81% this week, which Ferrer said is concerning but that since sequencing data has a two-week lag, definitively measuring BA.5 impact on case rates and hospitalizations can be difficult.
Ferrer said regardless of the concerns, she would call the current decision a “stop” rather than a “pause,” saying that since L.A. County is moving back into the “medium” tier under CDC’s guidelines, it would have to move back into the “high” tier for two consecutive weeks in order for a universal indoor mask mandate to return, which seems unlikely.
But, the “medium” tier still carries a heavy suggestion to weak masks indoors or in large groups and is still mandated in certain settings such as public transportation and hospitals.
Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley on the Board of Supervisors, issued a statement agreeing with Public Health’s decision not to go through with its mandate.
“I am pleased with the Department of Public Health’s decision to not reinstate an indoor masking mandate in our county,” Barger said in the prepared statement. “Unenforceable mandates don’t work. We must continue to marshal our mandates and resources effectively in the fight against COVID-19. I’m hopeful that we will now be able to move on from this heightened focus on masking mandates to what really matters – focusing on promoting the efficacy of vaccines and boosters, improving access to COVID-19 treatments, and continuing to educate our county’s residents on the benefits of masking. I am comfortable leaving this decision in the public’s very capable hands.”