The mask requirement for public transit due to expire soon was extended Friday in Los Angeles County after an uptick in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations pushed the region into a higher COVID risk category last week.
The state’s most populous county moved from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “low” risk category to “medium” on Thursday due to increases in key COVID figures. The mask mandate, which was about to expire in a matter of days, was officially extended a day later because of the rising figures.
Here’s what to know about the mandate, a familiar one for Los Angeles County residents.
Why was the public transit mask mandate extended in LA County?
The mandate due to expire in a matter of day likely would have been extended regardless of the risk level change, but the move from the CDC’s “low” to “medium” community risk level left little doubt there would be an extension.
The county issued a health order in late April requiring masks on transit vehicles and at hubs such as airports and train stations. The county extended the rule for either another 30 days or until the county sees a sharp drop in virus transmission, whichever comes first.
Masks were previously required nationally on public transit and in transportation facilities, but a federal judge struck down the requirement last month. The county initially followed the ruling and the mandate was dropped locally, but when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opted to appeal the ruling, the county issued a new health order reinstating the requirement locally.
Where do I need to wear a mask in LA County under the mandate?
The requirement affects people on trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-hailing vehicles and at bus terminals, subway stations and indoor port terminals. It also affects airports, but does not extend to airplanes, which are under federal jurisdiction.
The county still is not mandating mask-wearing in all indoor public settings, but it is being strongly recommended. Masks would become mandatory indoors if the county slips into the ``high'' COVID level. Reaching that mark would require a sharp increase in COVID-related hospitalizations.
What are LA County’s key COVID numbers?
The shift to a higher CDC risk level came when the county's cumulative weekly rate of new COVID cases exceeded 200 per 100,000 residents, reaching 202 per 100,000.
Moving to the ``medium'' category did not trigger any immediate changes in health regulations in the county, which was already maintaining precautionary recommendations that align with the CDC's guidelines under the “medium'' ranking. Those include requiring masks on public transit and at high-risk settings such as hospitals and homeless shelters, and maintaining widespread availability of vaccines and access to testing, including at-home tests.
Numbers of COVID-positive patients have been increasing in recent weeks, and the percentage of emergency room visits associated with the virus crept up to 5% over the past week -- up from 4% the previous week. But so far, the overall hospital statistics are still well within the CDC's parameters for the ``medium'' COVID level.
The county reported 3,180 new COVID infections on Friday, lifting the overall total from throughout the pandemic to 2,929,950. Ten more virus-related deaths were also reported, raising the cumulative local death toll to 32,074.
As of Friday, there were 401 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals, up from 379 on Thursday and the highest number since late March. The
number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 47, down from 53 a day earlier. Health officials have noted in recent weeks that the vast majority of COVID-positive hospital patients were actually admitted for reasons other than the virus, with many only discovering they were infected when they were tested at the hospital.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose to 3.7%, up from 3.5% a day earlier.
When would LA County move into the “high” 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.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday the county's current rate of new COVID-related admissions is 3.4 per 100,000 residents, and the rate of hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients is roughly 1.7%.
Ferrer said she remains hopeful the county won’t move into the “high” category, but only if residents and businesses followsafety practices.
“We know what works -- masking, testing, and vaccination, along with systems and policies that support the use of these and other effective safety measures,'' she said in a statement Friday. ``If each of us takes advantage of the good access to these effective resources, I am hopeful that we can slow transmission again, prevent strain on our healthcare system, and protect each other.''