Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced on Thursday that Los Angeles County has officially reached the “High” level of new COVID-19 cases and County hospitalization rates, giving the County two weeks to fall back below or else mandatory indoor masking mandates return.
Ferrer and the LA County Public Health Department have been warning for weeks that a mandate could return sometime during the summer. 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 rising rates of new cases in the last few months and new variants on the horizon, such as Omicron BA.4 and Omicron BA.5, have counties reconsidering bringing masks and restrictions back. Alameda County brought back indoor mask mandates a month and a half ago. New case rates and hospitalizations have not decreased at the state level since April, fueling growing fears that more Counties may be affected.
That worry turned into reality on Thursday when it was announced that LA County had finally broken through the 10 or more hospitalizations per 100,000 people threshold, which, according to the CDC, means that LA now is back to the “High” community level. With LA County at 10.5, and the new BA.4 and BA.5 variants amounting to 81% of new cases, Dr. Ferrer noted on Thursday that the County that it looked like masks would be coming back by July 29th.
“As of today, we have moved from the medium to the “High” COVID community level,” said Director Ferrer during a public briefing. “If the county remains in the CDC-designated High level for two consecutive weeks, we will again impose a universal mandatory indoor mask-wearing mandate.
“For many this will feel like a step backwards. But we are not closing anything down. We are not asking people not to gather with the people they love. We’re asking you to take a sensible step, when there’s this much transmission with a highly transmissible variant, to go ahead and put back on a well fitting high-filtration mask when you’re indoors around others.”
A likely return of indoor mask mandates in LA County
However, Ferrer and the County have been challenged by many over the likely reinstatement of the mandate. Death rates have continued to be low in LA County, with the 10 day average rate of 14 being where it was in April when the last surge was finishing tapering off. BA.4 and BA.5 have also found to be much less severe than other strains, with death rates and severe issues being much more lower than previous variants.
“It would be foolish to say that we should be happy about new variants,” explained Luisa Renteria, a nurse in Los Angeles who has assisted COVID patients since March 2020, to the Globe on Friday. “But BA.4 and BA.5 are generally less dangerous. Their main big things are that they spread quickly and that they are much more resistant to the vaccines out there. That’s why the numbers jumped by and large.”
“This is how new, once-powerful illnesses carry on over time. They get less and less deadly and cause less and less severe symptoms. And yes, it’s good to prepare and to protect those more vulnerable, I’m not sure bringing back the masking mandate makes a lot of sense this time. A lot of people will get worried over it. No one wants to see hospitals overfilling again. Believe me, it was horrible. But right now, we are where we should be treating it as a flu outbreak and use common sense measures like handwashing, using sanitizers, and even though it may be less effective, getting vaccinated, because it still offers some protection. Common sense people.”
“Most people also have mask fatigue at this point. They don’t want to slide back.”
The likely mandate will also be facing possible legal challenges, as many lawyers have pointed out numerous legal issues over the new writ of mandate.
Should LA County remain above the threshold for two more weeks, the mandate will return to LA County on July 29th, with other counties likely to follow before the beginning of the school year in August. The next COVID-19 review data for LA County is due to come out on July 21st.