Los Angeles County remains on pace to enter the "high" COVID-19 activity level as early as Thursday, the public health director said today, and absent a major reversal in virus-related hospitalizations, an indoor mask-wearing mandate will be imposed two weeks later.
The county is already in the "medium" COVID level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on the elevated rate of people being infected with the virus. If the county's rate of daily COVID-positive patients being admitted to area hospitals tops 10 per 100,000 residents, it will enter the "high" category.
As of Tuesday, that rate was at 8.8 per 100,000 residents.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, echoing projections she gave last week, told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that she expects the county to enter the "high'' activity category within days.
"Given the continued increase, we do anticipate by this Thursday the county will move into that high level,'' Ferrer said.
If the county remains in the "high" category for two consecutive weeks, a mandatory indoor mask-wearing mandate will be imposed, she said. Under the current pace, that mandate will take effect by July 29.
"I do recognize that when we return to universal indoor masking to reduce high spread, for many this will feel like a step backwards,'' Ferrer said.
But she said universal masking ``makes a lot of sense because it helps us to reduce risk.''
She again pointed to recent studies showing dramatic reduction in infection risk for people who wear face coverings, particularly for people who wear higher-grade masks, such as N95 or KN95 masks.
Masks are already still mandated in some indoor spaces -- health care facilities, transit hubs, on transit vehicles, airports, correctional facilities and shelters. A universal mandate would spread the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared office spaces, manufacturing facilities, retail stores, indoor events, indoor restaurants and bars and schools.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger urged Ferrer and health officials to conduct outreach to local businesses to discuss the impacts they could face, "especially when surrounding counties are not considering'' a mandate.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl again forcefully backed the idea of requiring masks, saying she has ``no patience'' for people who won't wear them.
"People are just not wearing them when they're not mandated,'' Kuehl said.
According to state figures, there were 1,153 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, and increase from 1,014 on Saturday. Of those patients, 115 were being treated in intensive care units.
On Monday, the county reported 18,158 new COVID-19 infections over a three-day period, while also recording 39 new deaths.
The new infections recorded between Saturday and Monday lifted the county's cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,178,242. County officials noted that the number of new cases could be low due to delays in reporting from some labs over the weekend.
The county no longer reports COVID numbers on weekends.
Health officials have also warned that the actual number of new infections occurring in the county is not fully reflected in the daily numbers, since many people now rely on at-home tests, the results of which are not always reported to the county.
The 39 new virus-related deaths reported Monday lifted the overall death toll in the county to 32,451. Health officials have said that a majority of the deaths occurred in people with at least one underlying health condition, mainly hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 14.8% as of Monday.
Where does Riverside County stand?
We reached out to Riverside County officials to find out if the county has had any similar discussions on face masks ordinances returning. Jose Arballo Jr., spokesperson for Riverside University Health System-Public Health, confirmed that there have been none.
"Right now there have been no discussions regarding any mandate to require indoor masking. Riverside County has followed state guidelines throughout the pandemic so if there was any change at the state level, then there could be a consideration," Arballo wrote to News Channel 3.
Arballo provided the weekly metrics used to determine the COVID-19 community level:
- Case Rate per 100,000 population: 308.6
- New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population 7.2%
- Staffed inpatient beds in use by patients with confirmed COVID-19 5%