LA feels ‘more hopeful’ of avoiding COVID mask mandate

LA feels ‘more hopeful’ of avoiding COVID mask mandate

  • US News
  • December 9, 2022
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Coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County have increased.

Hospitals in the area are treating more patients as doctors deal with an influx of patients being treated for COVID-19, as well as those sick with the flu and other respiratory illnesses.

Local health officials are again strongly recommending that everyone wear a mask in indoor public spaces. However, it remains unclear whether this winter flood will lead to a new mask requirement.

Here’s why:

The bad news

Hospitalizations: LA County has already met one of two criteria that would trigger a new mask requirement: a relatively high rate of hospitalizations. The county is now reporting 14.8 new coronavirus-positive patients per week per 100,000 residents; a rate of 10 or more is considered of high concern.

Beds: The second factor focuses on the proportion of occupied hospital beds that are occupied by corona-positive patients. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.9% of LA County’s staffed hospital beds are occupied by coronavirus-infected patients, up from 5.6% the previous week. That number would have to be 10% or more for a mask mandate to be on the table.

Outlook: Barbara Ferrer, director of public health, previously estimated LA County could hit the second benchmark around December 19. Because the county would need to beat both metrics for two weeks, a new mandate wouldn’t take effect until the first week of January, at the earliest.

sign of hope

Behind the numbers: The number of cases of coronavirus is no longer rising as sharply as it was just a few days ago. LA County recorded 3,780 cases per day — or 262 cases per week — per 100,000 residents for the week ended Thursday. The latest tally is slightly lower than the rate for the weekly period that ended Wednesday. But it also represents a 40% week-on-week rise, which is worrying, albeit gentler than the weekend’s 81% rise. A rate of 100 cases per week per 100,000 population is considered high.

Flattening out?: The latest data, shared by Ferrer during the county’s weekly briefing on Thursday, showed the hospitalization rate has started to flatten out. If this trend continues, reaching the second hospitalization metric that would trigger a mask requirement would be further away — or even less likely. The proportion of occupied hospital beds used by coronavirus-positive patients rose 23% from the previous week, a smaller jump than the 40% increase from the previous week.

‘More hopeful’: The hospital numbers prompted Ferrer to note Thursday, ‘I think it’s fair to say I’m more hopeful that our metrics could improve before they start to wane.’

The final result

The situation is still dangerous and the surges of recent winters have proven that the future cannot be predicted.

Because of this, Ferrer encouraged residents to voluntarily dress up in public interiors.

“We know everyone is very focused on when this could be a universal indoor mask requirement, but what we really want to focus on today is: We all need to wear our masks now,” she said. “We haven’t reached that super-dangerous threshold yet…but…there’s just too much transmission and there’s a lot of risk emerging. And the time to mitigate that risk is actually now.”

When a county’s community level is high, as is now the case in LA County, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends residents “wear a quality mask or respirator” and that those “who are at high risk of becoming very ill, consider “avoiding non-essential indoor activities in public” where they could be exposed to the coronavirus.

However, Ferrer emphasized that LA County is “not asking people to limit their activities, avoid activities, or cease activities.”

“We’re letting people know that the risk is higher with increased transmission,” she said. “And with this having an impact on our healthcare system and our vulnerable residents, it’s time to put sensible safeguards in place.”

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