How close is L.A. County to a new COVID mask mandate?

The continued spike in coronavirus cases, fueled by the ultra-contagious BA.5 subvariant, as well as an increase in hospitalizations, has brought Los Angeles County even closer to reinstating a universal indoor mask mandate.

The measure, which officials have long warned against, could go into effect as early as late July.

“We cannot predict with certainty what the future hospitalization trend will be. However, as cases and admissions have continued to grow, it’s more likely that we’ll move into high-level community designation later this month,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

Here’s what you need to know:

When could LA County enact a new mask mandate?

Officials said a public indoor mask requirement would be reinstated should LA County reach the high COVID-19 community level defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and stay there for two consecutive weeks.

LA County has yet to reach that level — the worst on the CDC’s three-point scale. But it’s the closest it has been to since he exited in early March. The category indicates not only that a region is experiencing significant spread of the coronavirus, but also that transmission is beginning to weigh on hospitals.

The CDC updates its community-level assessments every Thursday. Assuming LA County would enter the high COVID-19 community level next week, July 14, and stay there on July 21-28, the earliest mandate to issue masks would likely have had an effective date of July 29. July Ferrer.

However, there is no guarantee that this will happen. Forecasts are based on the possibility that current trends will continue.

how close are we

To meet the high community level, 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 rate listed for LA County was 9.7, up 17% from the previous week’s rate of 8.3.

From the county’s perspective, however, the actual number is lower — 8.4.

That, Ferrer says, is because the federal data combines LA and Orange counties, since the two fall within the same health service area that the CDC uses to calculate its metrics.

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

But that is no longer the case. Ferrer said Orange County’s rate of new weekly coronavirus-positive hospital admissions per 100,000 residents was 13.3 as of Wednesday.

New Weekly COVID-19 Hospitalization Rates, LA County vs. Orange County

Orange County’s rate of new weekly coronavirus-positive hospital admissions is 13.3, far worse than LA County’s rate of 8.4.

(Los Angeles County Department of Health and Human Services)

“Given this variance, which will now actually impact level allocation and labeling, we will use the LA County-specific data to determine the hospital metrics that will be used to make the assigned community-level allocations,” she said .

However, based on current trends, Ferrer estimated that LA County’s rate could cross the high threshold as early as next week.

Why is LA County considering a mask mandate?

Officials say the potential order is consistent with CDC guidance, which recommends covering indoors for counties with high COVID-19 community levels.

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

California COVID-19 community level

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

(US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

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

However, no other California counties have publicly linked the return of universal mask mandates to the CDC framework. And the only region to re-enact a face-covering order in response to the latest wave, Alameda County, has already lifted it.

Although public health officials almost everywhere are recommending indoor masking as added protection against coronavirus transmission, some have currently called new mandates unnecessary given both epidemiological changes in the virus and the availability of vaccines and treatments.

However, Ferrer says universal masking doesn’t just help protect individuals.

“Although we have an amazing array of tools that we can all use to protect ourselves – and indeed some of these tools will protect many other people as well – there are many people, particularly in critical work settings, where they would benefit if more people around them were actually using some of the safety precautions that we know work,” she said. “And that’s the case with masking.”

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

“Partly we are such a big jurisdiction; At times we’ve seen genuinely tragic and ruthless differences and disproportions in who was hit hardest, that we want to make sure that where we have a simple and effective tool that can be used… we make sure we use it “Use this tool when risk levels get high,” she said.

There are reasons for health officials to be extra cautious about the impact of a pandemic wave in LA County.

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

In contrast, neighboring coastal counties — Ventura and Orange — as well as the five most populous counties in the San Francisco Bay Area — including Alameda County — are moderately vulnerable.

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

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

How are the hospitals?

As of Wednesday, 989 coronavirus-positive patients have been hospitalized in LA County. That’s the highest single-day total since late February and an increase of nearly 44% from two weeks ago.

While the trendline has yet to take on the ominous, near-vertical shape seen during the worst waves of the pandemic, the daily patient count has more than quadrupled since mid-April.

“Obviously, the concern about the increase in hospital admissions is that with the new variants that are highly transmissible, there may be more people at risk of serious diseases now contracting them,” Ferrer said.

So far, however, this latest spike isn’t wreaking nearly the same kind of devastation as the previous ones. During the initial Omicron spike last fall and winter, hospital admissions with coronavirus positives rose to over 4,800. Last summer’s delta rise peaked at nearly 1,800.

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

A significant number of patients — Ferrer estimated the number at 60% — are not hospitalized specifically for COVID-19 but have tested positive after seeking treatment for other reasons. However, each places a particular drain on resources due to the additional services required to prevent the spread of the virus.

Hospitalizations are also a lagging indicator of the spread of the coronavirus. As long as coronavirus transmission remains elevated, patient numbers are unlikely to decrease significantly. And even if transmission slows down, it can take weeks for this trend to pick up.

The effects of the sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, which are becoming increasingly dominant nationwide, also have to be seen.

Although hospitals are not now reporting that they are overwhelmed, Ferrer said the plan to reintroduce a mask mandate in case hospitalizations worsen is prudent.

“Waiting until hospitals are overwhelmed is way too late to do much about slowing transmission,” Ferrer said. “Actually, the time to slow transmission is when you start to see signs that your hospitals are becoming more busy.”

The CDC recommends that everyone ages 2 and older wear masks indoors when a county reaches high COVID-19 community levels, which include both hospitalizations and coronavirus case rates.

When those indicators are high, “it’s time to worry and try to do something to slow transmission,” Ferrer said.

“We won’t be able to completely eliminate the transmission of these highly infectious new subvariants, but we can definitely do better to slow transmission so the surges in hospitals don’t create such a burden that we have both during Omicron.” -Winter flood and the previous winter flood,” Ferrer said. How close is L.A. County to a new COVID mask mandate?

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