New statistics released by the Los Angeles County Department of Health on Thursday project that, with current COVID-19 case rate growth and more and more hospital beds being taken by COVID-19 patients, the County is now on track to bring back a County-wide indoor mask mandate if rates don’t go down this month.
Since the repeal of state and local indoor mask mandates in the late winter and early spring of this year, fluctuating COVID-19 transmission rates, as well as recent new case rises and new variants, have had counties considering a return of some form of mask mandate. During the summer, Alameda County brought their mandate back briefly, with LA County nearly doing so but dropping plans to do so at the last minute due to both a turnaround of new cases and enormous public outcry.
A dip in cases during the fall quelled fears of a mandate for a time, but with the number of cases climbing again, LA County Public Health Department began to strongly recommend wearing masks indoors last month. The number of cases has continued to increase since. On November 21st, 1,123 new cases of COVID-19 were announced by LA County Public Health. Last week, the number of new cases a day were over 2,700, with an average of 192 COVID-related hospital admissions, with the daily total going well above that average with 4,493 new cases. On Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced that the weekly averages went up again, with the seven day average of the weekly positivity rate hitting 13% for the first time since earlier this year.
— LA Public Health (@lapublichealth) December 8, 2022
In addition, some of the triggers to put a mask mandate back in place were also met on Thursday. LA County moved into the CDC High Community level on Thursday, with the case rate per 100,000 people now above 270. A main trigger of the County having an average new COVID patient admission rate of more than 10 out of 100,000 residents was also broken, going up above 14. Ferrer said on Thursday that the last CDC trigger, having 10% or more inpatient hospital beds with COVID patients, was not met, with the percentage only being at 6.9% on Thursday.
However Ferrer also noted that climbing COVID-19 rates has accelerated that percentage. On November 1st, that figure only stood at 2%, with current projections showing that LA. County could hit that figure as soon as December 22nd. Should it be reached then, the County would have two weeks to improve on that or the other trigger figures. If they all remain above the levels after two weeks, the mask mandate would come into effect again. And, according to LA County Public Health, that meansCDC a mask mandate could be announced on January 5th, with implementation coming the very next day.
A likely January return of the mask mandate
“We are seeing a rapid acceleration again,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday. “This is the time to put that mask back on. In order for this to be an effective strategy that allows there to be as high compliance as we can get, you do need to give people time. It will be really hard to get back into putting on face coverings. Nobody really likes them, we understand that. We look at the evidence — and it’s very, very compelling — that if people do wear well-fitting, high-filtration masks, they have more protection. And they afford others more protection from transmission.”
“I’m just not sure that it’s a smart move to give up and throw up our hands. Mortality for COVID-19 is still higher than it is for influenza, certainly than the common cold, and most other respiratory illnesses. The number of people being hospitalized and the rates of hospitalization — that’s not really encouraging at the moment. And our hospitals have to deal with the corresponding staffing shortages that happen when you have lots of illnesses.”
With LA County now looking at a likely early January implementation should COVID-19 rates continue the same pace, healthcare workers in the County are currently on edge for the return of the mandate.
“No one is looking forward to this,” said Luisa Renteria, a nurse in Los Angeles who has assisted COVID patients since March 2020, to the Globe on Thursday. “People get more sick as winter approaches, and with everyone travelling this month, we’ll see it get even higher unfortunately.”
“This is not really that enforceable, and everyone kind of knows it, and what we’ll see are more stories of people refusing to wear masks again. Food stores kicking people out for not wearing a mask and banks having armed guards dragging people out – that is going to happen again, because a lot of people just don’t want to do it again. You know, they’re done with it.”
“Plus, if LA does it, it may encourage other counties to bring it back too, since they won’t be alone in it, and that’s a scary thought. As a nurse, I say masking is important because we don’t want COVID to spread even more. As a citizen of LA County, I don’t want to wear one because of what it represents. But here we are.”
An announcement next Thursday is expected by LA County Health on how close they are to reaching that new threshold.
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