LA County relaxes universal COVID mask recommendation

With coronavirus transmission declining, Los Angeles County health officials have relaxed their blanket recommendation that everyone mask up indoors in public.

Although wearing a face covering is still required in some settings – such as healthcare facilities and nursing homes – and still encouraged on public transport, the decision for most should now be seen as a matter of personal preference.

That’s not to say masking isn’t useful anymore, public health director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

“I encourage people to continue to view masking as an effective tool to reduce exposure to COVID-19,” she said, while continuing to wear a mask – as usual – during her weekly briefing.

Ferrer also continues to strongly recommend that those most vulnerable to serious illness continue to wear masks in indoor public places, especially those that are crowded or poorly ventilated.

Businesses, schools and offices can still choose to mandate mask use.

“We encourage workers who are going to have very many exposures during the day to go on and keep those masks on,” Ferrer said. Workers with vulnerable family members may also choose to continue masking in public to reduce the risk of bringing an infection home.

State occupational health and safety rules still require workers who have been exposed to the coronavirus to wear masks in the workplace for 10 days after their exposure. Newly infected people who came out of isolation because they tested negative in a rapid test should still wear a mask at work until the 10th day after symptoms of COVID-19 appear or appear. first positive test.

LA County had strongly recommended universal indoor masking in public places since mid-November, when its rate of coronavirus cases exceeded 100 cases per week per 100,000 population, a level considered high.

The change in the county’s official masking stance came last week after the region’s weekly rate of coronavirus cases fell below 100.

LA County’s case rate has continued to decline since then. As of Thursday, the county was reporting 67 cases per week per 100,000 population, or 959 cases per week. The county remains in the low COVID-19 community level defined by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Authorities note that the official case count is likely a significant undercount at this stage of the pandemic — a byproduct of the increased use of home testing, the results of which are not reliably reported to reporting agencies. public health, as well as people who test less regularly.

However, sewage monitoring data also suggests transmission of the coronavirus is on the decline.

For weeks, LA County has plateaued, with sewage concentrations hovering around 70% of the peak seen during last summer’s surge. But in early January, levels plunged to around 29% of the summer peak, according to data released Thursday. The county considers this to be “little concern,” according to Ferrer.

Coronavirus levels in LA County’s sewage plummeted in early January.

(LA County Department of Public Health)

“These figures confirm that the decline in transmission is both real and significant. And hopefully the drop in transmission will soon be followed by a decrease in deaths,” she said.

Promisingly, levels of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, have also dropped significantly in recent weeks. There is a risk, however, that influenza activity could rebound this spring, Ferrer said, and RSV should continue to circulate.

“The same measures we are used to for COVID-19 – frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, wearing a mask in crowded places – will also continue to prevent the transmission of these other respiratory viruses,” he said. said Ferrer.

RSV and flu levels drop in LA County wastewater

Influenza and RSV levels also dropped in LA County wastewater.

(LA County Department of Public Health)

Hospitalizations are also down. As of Wednesday, there were 729 coronavirus-positive patients in LA County hospitals. This has been almost halved since early December.

The apparent peak recorded this fall and winter – 1,308 on December 8 – is slightly lower than the summer total of 1,329 on July 20, and significantly lower than last winter’s surge, which peaked at 4,814.

The record number of coronavirus-positive hospitalizations came in the first winter of the pandemic, when vaccines were still in short supply and hospital morgues were overflowing. This happened on January 5, 2021, when 8,098 people were hospitalized.

Deaths from COVID-19 have stabilized, but remain relatively high compared to last summer. LA County is averaging about 136 COVID-19 deaths per week, higher than last summer’s high of 122 but lower than the previous winter’s peak of 513. LA County recorded 43 COVID-19 deaths per week during its lowest point in the fall.

Even with the county relaxing its masking recommendation, Ferrer said she’s still keeping hers on as much as possible in indoor public places.

“I am an elderly person. I’m over 65 and I don’t want to get sick,” she said.

But Ferrer has started eating indoors at restaurants if no outdoor options are available because the risk of viral transmission is lower. She said she kept her mask on unless she was eating or drinking and going to places where she thought the ventilation was okay.

“Everyone knows I like being outdoors. So I mostly try to be outdoors,” she said. “But…I go indoors when it’s not an opportunity.”

Los Angeles Times

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