LA County

How Close Is LA County to the Return of Indoor Mask Rules?

COVID hospitalizations have fluctuated in the past few weeks in LA County, taking another jump on Thursday. Here's what it means for indoor mask mandates.

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An increase this week in the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 raises the possibility that indoor mask rules will return in Los Angeles County, where the figure has see-sawed over the past few weeks, public health officials said Thursday.

As of Thursday, there were 808 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals, up from 779 on Wednesday, according to state figures. Of those patients 74 were being treated in intensive care, down from 77 a day earlier.

Just two days earlier, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors the average daily rate of new COVID admissions to hospitals in the county had fallen to 6.6 per 100,000 residents, down from 7.3 per 100,000 a week earlier. But on Thursday, Ferrer said that number has jumped to 8.1 per 100,000.

The figure and CDC risk categories are key indicators of what might be ahead for indoor mask wearing rules in California's most populous county.

If the county reaches 10 new daily admissions per 100,000 residents, it will move into the "high" virus activity category as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the county stays in the "high" category for two consecutive weeks, it will reimpose a mandatory indoor mask-wearing mandate.

At the current rate of increase, the county will hit the "high" category by July 19, Ferrer said. That projection has changed repeatedly in the past few weeks as the admission rate has fluctuated, and Ferrer said it could shift again.

She noted, however, that given the continued high level of virus transmission in the county -- particularly with more rapid spread of the highly transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 variants -- people should already be masking up indoors.

"People are not, I think, heeding our request that people do put those masks back on indoors right now," Ferrer said.

She said the evidence is "crystal clear'' that masking, particularly with a higher-grade N95 or KN95 mask, works to prevent spread of the virus.

"And it's not the worst thing to have to do,'' she said, noting that if more people voluntarily wear masks indoors and help reduce transmission, "that would help all of us avoid returning to a requirement when you have to put those masks on."

She urged employers to implement infection-control measures at indoor worksites, such as masking and maintaining physical distancing in communal areas. She noted that one sector in particular -- the TV and film industry -- has already re-imposed an indoor mask mandate now that the county's hospitalization rate has reached more than 8 per 100,000 residents.

The county reported 5,763 new COVID cases on Thursday, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,118,053. Nine more deaths were also reported, lifting the virus-related death toll to 32,334. The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus rose to 13.8%.

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