LA County Will Move Into the ‘Medium' COVID Risk Level. Here's What It Means

Los Angeles County was in the CDC's "low" risk category, but that changed as expected Thursday based on rising COVID cases and hospitalizations.

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Rising case numbers and hospitalizations mean a downgrade in Los Angeles County's COVID community transmission risk category from "low" to "medium."

County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced the change during a briefing Thursday, when LA County reported 4,725 new cases 

The change was expected after more than 4,300 new COVID cases were reported Wednesday in Los Angeles County, where hospitalizations are also on the rise after an encouraging decrease earlier this year. There were 363 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Wednesday, up from 327 a day earlier.

COVID hospital numbers had been dropping in recent months. The figure fell to 219 on April 20, but surged upward ever since.

Those key figures help determine health safety protocols in LA County. A sharp rise and widespread community transmission could trigger a renewal of mandatory indoor mask-wearing rules.

Here's what to know about the numbers and what they mean for LA County's level of risk as determined by the CDC.

When would LA County mask mandates return?

Los Angeles County, as expected, was downgraded on Thursday from the "low" community risk category to "medium."

The CDC updates its classifications every Thursday.

According to federal and county data, the county's cumulative seven-day rate of new COVID cases rose to 202 per 100,000 residents, up from about 176 per 100,000 last week. With the number topping 200, the county is now considered to have ``medium'' COVID levels, a designation that comes with recommendations for heightened precautions against virus spread.

The change in category would not necessarily have an immediate impact. The county has already implemented the CDC's recommendations for areas in the "medium category, like masks on public transit, wide availability of vaccinations and guidance for improving ventilation in indoor settings.

But if there's another spike in COVID hospitalizations, that might push LA County into the "high" risk category and the indoor masking wearing rules that will likely come with it.

Is Los Angeles County in danger of slipping into the 'high' COVID risk category?

Under CDC guidelines, counties in the "medium" category will move to "high" if the rate of new virus-related hospital admissions reaches 10 per 100,000 residents, or if 10% of the county's staffed hospital beds are occupied by COVID-positive patients.

The county's current rate of new admissions is 3.1 per 100,000 residents, and the rate of hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients is just under 2%.

Dr. Ferrer told the board earlier that the county is likely to move into the CDC's "medium" COVID risk category this week. She said she is confident the county will avoid sliding into the "high" category.

"While we are disheartened that the pandemic hasn't ended, I am reassured that with the tools at hand, we can continue to enjoy our time with each other and our participation in those activities that we love," she said.

The 4,384 new cases reported Wednesday lifted the county's overall total from throughout the pandemic to 2,922,210. The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus, while still relatively low, rose to 3.2% Wednesday, up from 2.6% on Tuesday.

Ten COVID deaths were also reported, raising the cumulative virus-related death toll in the county to 32,055. Health officials have noted that most people who die from COVID suffer from various underlying health conditions.

Similarly, most hospital patients who are infected with COVID were hospitalized for reasons other than the virus, health officials said. Many only learned they were infected when they were tested upon hospital admission.

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