Mask mandates may return as hospitalizations rise

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An indoor mask mandate may return to Los Angeles County as early as July 19, according to L.A. County Department of Public Health projections.  

In a press briefing on Thursday, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that rising COVID-19 hospital admissions could put enough strain on the county’s health care system to cause the mandates to return. 

“It’s important to note that we cannot predict with certainty what this future hospitalization trend is going to look like,” said Ferrer. “Hospitalizations could level off, then could begin to decline. With the continued proliferation of new omicron sub-variants it’s very difficult to accurately predict the rate of hospitalizations.” 

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 8.1 admissions per 100,000 people.  

Although this is still considered to be in the CDC’s medium tier, health officials are concerned with the acceleration of these rates. The current hospitalization rate is 56% higher than it was a month ago. Ferrer said that when hospitalizations breach 10 admissions per 100,000, an indoor mask mandate will return.  

“If we move into the CDC-designated high community level, and we remain there for two consecutive weeks, we would implement a universal indoor masking requirement for everyone 2 and older,” said Ferrer.  

In addition to hospitalization, the Health Department is also warning of rising case rates. Just in the past week, the county reported 5,100 cases per day, a 17% increase. Ferrer noted that these numbers are an undercount, as regular testing in schools is in decline and the use of uncounted at-home testing is on the rise.  

“Most getting tested are either testing because they had an exposure or because they don’t feel good,” said Ferrer, explaining why the Health Department believes these numbers are an undercount. 

Ferrer said there are also other things Public Health is concerned about and that four early alert signals have been elevated to “high concern.” 

One is the percent of specimen sequences that are being identified as a new variant of concern. A “high concern” rate would be anything above 20%. Currently the county is seeing 71% of specimens being identified as new variants of concern.  

The other alert signals that have moved into “high concern” were seven-day case rates for the lowest-income areas (30-100% area poverty), number of new outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities in the past week, and the number of worksite cluster reports in the past week. These numbers are 229 per 100,000, 34, and 301 respectively.  

Although the number of deaths due to COVID-19 remain low (seven to eight per day), Ferrer said they were “nonetheless tragic.”  

“Each death from this pandemic is a blow and it’s difficult to accept,” said Ferrer. “For those who have lost a loved one from COVID, please know our hearts are with you as you heal.”  

Ferrer urged everyone in the county to take precautions ahead of the July 4 weekend, saying that if you feel sick, or have recently tested positive for COVI-19, you should stay home. She also advised getting tested before getting together, celebrating outdoors or wearing a mask indoors around high-risk friends or family.  

“With a little planning, you can have a great time celebrating while keeping each other safe,” said Ferrer. “Let’s use the tools at hand to enjoy our summer, our holiday, and our time with others.”  

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