An indoor mask mandate is possibly weeks, or even a month away, according to Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
There are two metrics set by the Centers for Disease Control that dictate whether a mandate would return: one is the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations per 100,000 (currently at 14.8) and the other is the number of staffed in-patient beds occupied by a COVID-19 patient (currently at 6.9%).
The county would need to remain in the “high” category for two consecutive weeks in both categories to trigger a mandate. Currently the county is only high in one (number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations per 100,000).
Ferrer said an accurate projection of when a mandate could happen is not on the table, as of now, because previous projections estimated a mandate could happen sooner (sometime in mid-December) but now projections are indicating sometime in January. However, Ferrer said, “We’re actually not sure that we’ll get there,” citing the rate of increase in staffed in-patient beds metrics.
“I want to note [the increase] is smaller than previous increases observed in late November,” said Ferrer. “We’re hopeful that this could represent increased utilization of therapeutics, which could significantly reduce the chances of developing severe illness for those who are infected.”
Ferrer said the increase of therapeutics, the widespread availability of vaccines (such as the updated bivalent vaccine) and masking up indoors – especially when in larger groups – could help prevent a mandate from going into place.
“Almost three years into the pandemic, there can be a sense of resignation with the ebbs and flow of transmission,” said Ferrer. “We’ve seen that even during the worst of surges, cases will start to come down after a few weeks. It would be dangerous, however, for us to feel that we no longer need to try to minimize the impact of these surges.”
While hospitalizations do not currently warrant an indoor mask mandate, and there is a possibility they won’t at all in the future, cases are surging and transmission is very high. The seven-day average of daily cases is now at 3,800 per day – a 40% increase from last week and a 200% increase from last month.
This means the risk of catching COVID-19 from everyday activities such as going to the grocery store is also increasing – as is the possibility of catching it while in large groups. But COVID isn’t the only thing L.A. County residents need to worry about this winter. Case rates of the flu and RSV are also increasing.
“I do want to take a moment to note that while we are in the third year of the pandemic, this is our first winter experiencing high rates of COVID, alongside high rates of flu and RSV,” said Ferrer. “These are three respiratory illnesses that can all cause severe illness.”
Taking precautions against these viruses is similar to preventing getting sick from COVID: washing your hands frequently, staying home when you’re sick, avoiding others while you’re sick, wearing a mask indoors and being vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu.