Los Angeles County is preparing to lift its outdoor mask-wearing requirement Wednesday thanks to another drop in the number of COVID-positive patients in local hospitals.
According to state figures, there were 2,054 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals, down from 2,086 on Sunday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 437, down from 439 on Sunday.
Hospitalizations had climbed to over 4,800 in mid-January at the height of the Omicron-variant-fueled winter surge in cases.
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Under guidelines announced this month by county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, if the hospitalization number stays below 2,500 for seven consecutive days, the county will consider itself to be entering a "post-surge'' phase, and will lift its mask mandate for outdoor "mega-events'' and outdoors at schools and childcare centers. Monday marked the fifth straight day of sub-2,500 hospitalizations.
Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that the outdoor mask requirement will be formally lifted at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
The county's outdoor mask mandate was in effect for Sunday's Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, but footage from the game again showed fans largely ignoring the requirement.
The county on Monday also reported 26 more COVID-19-related deaths, raising the overall virus death toll to 29,928.
Another 2,457 COVID cases were announced, although the number is likely low to standard delays in reporting from the weekend. The new cases gave the county a cumulative total of 2,764,073 from throughout the pandemic.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 3% as of Monday.
Ferrer made another public push Monday for people to get vaccinated, particularly residents in generally under-served and higher-impact neighborhoods.
"We are once again at a pivotal point in our recovery journey where we don't have the luxury of ignoring our individual and collective responsibilities,'' she said in a statement. "Given where we are, and the continued risk in under-resourced communities, we need to use sensible safety protections that help us drive down transmission of this dangerous virus.
Improving vaccination rates remains a priority since vaccines provide both significant protection for the vaccinated person and for the community around them.''
The county plans to host more than 800 mobile vaccination clinics this week, in addition to standard vaccine locations.
While the county's outdoor masking requirements could be lifted this week, the indoor masking mandate will remain in place until much stricter criteria are met. That's in spite of the state planning to lift its indoor mask requirement for vaccinated people at the end of the day Tuesday.
According to Ferrer, the county's indoor mask rule will not be lifted until the county's virus-transmission rate falls to the "moderate'' level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for two straight weeks, or until COVID vaccines have been available to children under 5 years old for eight weeks.
Reaching the CDC's "moderate'' designation requires the county to have a cumulative, seven-day new case rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. According to the CDC's website, the county's rate was about 459 per 100,000 as of Monday.
The rate has been steadily dropping, and Ferrer said last week that at the current rate of decline, the county could reach the "moderate'' category within a month.