How close is LA County to a new COVID mask mandate?


The continued rise in coronavirus cases fueled by the ultra-contagious BA.5 subvariant along with an increase in hospitalizations has pushed Los Angeles County even closer to reinstating a universal indoor mask mandate.

The measure, which officials have long warned is on the table, could take effect as early as late July.

“We cannot predict with certainty what the future trend in hospitalization will look like. However, it seems more likely, as cases and admissions have continued to rise, that we will enter high community level designation later this month,” the LA County Public Health Director said Thursday. , Barbara Ferrer.

Here’s what you need to know:

When could LA County issue a new mask mandate?

Officials said a public indoor masking requirement would be reinstated if LA County reaches the high community level for COVID-19, set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and stays there for two consecutive weeks. .

LA County has yet to reach that level — the worst on the CDC’s three-tier scale. But it’s the closest since its release in early March. The category not only indicates that an area is experiencing significant spread of the coronavirus, but that transmission is beginning to put pressure on hospitals.

The CDC updates its community-level assessments every Thursday. Assuming LA County was to enter the high community level of COVID-19 next week, July 14, and stay there July 21 and 28, the sooner a mask mandate could be issued would likely have a effective date July 29, according to Ferrier.

There’s no guarantee this will happen, however. Projections are based on the possibility that current trends will continue.

How close are we?

To achieve Community High, LA County would need to see at least 10 new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations per 100,000 residents.

According to CDC data released Thursday, the listed rate for LA County was 9.7, a 17% increase from the previous week’s rate of 8.3.

However, from the county’s perspective, the actual figure is lower – 8.4.

This, Ferrer said, is because the federal data combines Los Angeles and Orange counties, since both fall under the same health services domain that the CDC uses to calculate its metrics.

“This approach wasn’t initially problematic because LA County’s and Orange County’s metrics were relatively similar,” Ferrer said.

But this is no longer the case. Ferrer said Orange County’s rate of new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations per 100,000 population was 13.3 on Wednesday.

Orange County’s rate of new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations is 13.3, much worse than LA County’s rate of 8.4.

(Los Angeles County Department of Public Health)

“Given this discrepancy, which will now affect tier assignment and designation, we will use LA County-specific data to determine the hospital metrics used to make designated community-level assignments,” she said. declared.

Based on current trends, however, Ferrer estimated that LA County’s rate could exceed the high threshold as early as next week.

Why is LA County considering a mask mandate?

Officials say the potential order is aligned with CDC guidelines, which recommend indoor masking for counties at the high COVID-19 community level.

About 60% of California counties fall into this category, including the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley. Some 16 million Californians live in a county with a high community level of COVID-19, representing 41% of the state’s population.

California COVID-19 Community Level

Some 16 million Californians live in counties with high community levels of COVID-19, including the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Valley. Ventura County is the only county in Southern California at the high COVID-19 community level.

(US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

In Southern California, Ventura County is the only county at the high community level.

However, no other California county has publicly linked the return of universal mask mandates to the CDC framework. And the only region to reissue a face covering order in response to the latest wave, Alameda County, has already rescinded it.

Although health officials almost universally recommend indoor masking as an extra layer of protection against coronavirus transmission, some have called new mandates at this time unnecessary, given both the epidemiological changes in the virus and the availability of vaccines and treatments.

Ferrer, however, says universal masking doesn’t just help protect the individual.

“While it’s true that we have an incredible set of tools that we can all use to protect ourselves – and in fact some of those tools will also protect many other people – there are many people, especially in essential work environments, where they would benefit if more people around them actually used some of the safety precautions that we know work,” she said. “And that’s the case with the masking.”

For LA County, she added, “equity issues are paramount.”

“Partly, we’re such a big jurisdiction; in part we’ve witnessed some truly tragic and unconscionable differences and disproportions in who’s been hit hardest, that we want to make sure that where we have a simple and effective tool that can be used…that we make sure that we are using this tool when the level of risk becomes high,” she said.

Health officials have reason to be particularly cautious about the effects of a pandemic wave in LA County.

LA County is considered by the CDC to be highly vulnerable in the event of a pandemic, according to the agency’s Social Vulnerability Index, based on factors such as poverty and overcrowded housing.

In contrast, its neighboring coastal counties – Ventura and Orange – as well as the five most populous counties in the San Francisco Bay Area – including Alameda County – have moderate levels of vulnerability.

In LA County, 14% of residents live below the poverty line; in Ventura County, 9% do.

LA County’s median household income of about $71,000 is lower than the state median of nearly $79,000, while Ventura County’s is higher at $89,000.

How are the hospitals doing?

As of Wednesday, 989 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized in LA County. This is the highest one-day total since late February and an increase of nearly 44% from two weeks ago.

Although the trend line has yet to take the ominous, almost vertical shape seen during the worst waves of the pandemic, the daily number of patients has more than quadrupled since mid-April.

“The concern, of course, with the increase in hospitalizations is that there could be more people at risk of serious illness who are infected now, given the new highly transmissible variants,” Ferrer said.

So far, however, this latest surge isn’t wreaking the same kind of havoc as those that preceded it. During Omicron’s initial peak last fall and winter, positive coronavirus hospitalizations topped 4,800. For last summer’s Delta surge, the peak was nearly 1,800.

During the winter of 2020, the number of positive coronavirus patients in LA County exceeded 8,000 at times.

A significant number of patients — Ferrer pegged the number at 60% — are not hospitalized specifically for COVID-19 but have tested positive after seeking treatment for other reasons. But each presents a particular strain on resources because of the additional services needed to prevent them from spreading the virus.

Hospitalizations are also a lagging indicator of the spread of the coronavirus; as long as transmission of the coronavirus remains high, the number of patients is unlikely to decrease significantly. And even if transmission falters, it can take weeks for this trend to bring relief.

It also remains to be seen the impacts of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which are becoming increasingly dominant nationally.

Even if hospitals aren’t reporting being overwhelmed now, Ferrer said the plan to reinstate a mask mandate if hospitalizations get worse was prudent.

“Waiting for hospitals to be overwhelmed is far too late to try to do much to slow transmission,” Ferrer said. “The time to slow transmission is actually when you start to see indicators that you have more usage in your hospitals.”

The CDC recommends that everyone age 2 and older wear masks indoors when a county reaches the community high level for COVID-19, which includes both hospitalization and coronavirus case rates.

When those indicators are high, “that’s the time to start worrying and start trying to do something to slow transmission,” Ferrer said.

“We’re not going to be able to completely eliminate transmission of these new, highly infectious subvariants, but we can certainly make a better effort to slow transmission so that increases in hospitals don’t end up creating the genus. of stress that we saw during both the Omicron winter surge and the previous winter surge,” Ferrer said.




Los Angeles Times

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