The recent drop in coronavirus-positive cases and hospitalizations could pull Los Angeles County off the brink of a new universal public indoor mask mandate.
Although a decision on whether to impose the long-looming order won’t come until later this week, health officials noted on Tuesday that improvements to some COVID-19 measures may be worth a delay. .
Such a break would mark a major turnaround for the nation’s most populous county. A mask mandate appeared likely late last week, much to the chagrin of some residents, business groups and elected leaders who called it an unnecessary and ineffective override.
Although it’s too early to tell if this latest wave has peaked – especially as the ultra-contagious BA.5 Omicron sub-variant is still widespread – there are some encouraging signs.
On July 20, 1,329 patients positive for coronavirus were hospitalized throughout the county. That total dipped to 1,200 on Friday before rising over the weekend to 1,286 on Monday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, LA County averaged about 6,000 daily coronavirus cases over the previous week, down 11% from the previous week’s average of 6,700 daily cases. Per capita, the latest rate is 417 cases per week per 100,000 population. A case rate of 100 or more is considered high.
A flattening of coronavirus cases in LA County began to be detected in the middle of last week, and on Friday LA County began to see week-over-week declines.
Cases are also declining across the state. California reported an average of 17,000 per day over the past week, down 17% from the previous week.
“It’s important to note that we had three cases earlier this spring and summer where we saw drops in cases that were followed soon after by increases,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday. to the county board of supervisors. “It is therefore important for us to continue to be cautious and ready to layer additional protections.”
Ferrer previously said the county could suspend a warrant if transmission showed pronounced signs of slowing down.
Ferrer had said LA County would reimpose an indoor mask mandate if it reached the high COVID-19 community level defined by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and remained there for two consecutive weeks.
Placement in this category means that a county has both a significant amount of community transmission and at least 10 new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations per 100,000 population.
LA County entered the high community level of COVID-19 July 14 and stayed there last week. LA County determines which community level it sits at every Thursday, using criteria established by the CDC.
But “if we see a sustained decrease in cases, or if the rate of hospital admissions approaches the middle threshold, we will pause the implementation of universal indoor masking while we closely monitor our transmission rates.” , said Ferrer.
If issued, a new face-covering order will come into effect on Friday and apply indoors to anyone aged 2 or older in a multitude of establishments and locations, including shared offices, manufacturing and retail facilities, event spaces, restaurants and bars, gyms and yoga studios, educational settings and children’s programs.
Public health officials largely characterize face coverings as a low-impact way to help reduce transmission in indoor settings, where the risk of spreading the coronavirus is typically higher. LA County and California Public Health Departments strongly recommended residents mask up when indoors in public.
However, when the coronavirus spreads widely and sends more people to hospital, Ferrer argued that it makes sense to move from a recommendation to a requirement. This, she said, would not only protect customers and clients, but also the county’s workforce and its most vulnerable residents.
“Nobody is suggesting that we have to wear masks forever, rather than [there] are likely to be short periods of time when it makes sense,” she said.
But opponents have bristled, arguing that such a move is unnecessary in a time when vaccines and treatments are plentiful, tests are readily available and hospitals are nowhere near as stressed as they are. were at the start of the pandemic. Particularly objectionable to some is the potential return of masking in schools, which has long been a hotly debated concept throughout California and the nation.
It is absurd, critics say, that LA County is considering a new order when no other part of California is doing the same. And some business groups have expressed concern that the move could hamper their operations, encourage shoppers to take their money elsewhere or put workers in the position of enforcing rules that many no longer want to follow.
Although she’s personally “all for the masking,” supervisor Kathryn Barger said Tuesday she was adamantly opposed to a warrant “because I really believe it’s going to have the opposite effect.”
In an open letter On Monday, Barger wrote that she believes such orders are polarizing, unenforceable, and “actually detract from our collective efforts to reduce COVID-19 infection rates.”
“We have not fully considered or understood the costs associated with imposing blackout mandates among our children and youth,” Barger wrote. “I have heard loud and clear from parents and caregivers who witness the social-emotional toll our county’s children endure. Their anxiety and depression are palpable.
Supervisor Janice Hahn said her preference would be to stay aligned with the state – which highly recommendbut does not require, hiding indoors in public.
She suggested the new mask rules should also be more limited to begin with, perhaps only covering places such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
“Local businesses I know have told my office they’re worried about having to enforce this mask mandate when so much of the public is against it,” Hahn said. “They just don’t feel like the reason they got into a small business was, in some way, to fight with their customers.”
Hahn also said she is concerned that implementing a mandate now could compromise the county’s ability to persuade people to mask up in the event of a more serious surge in the future.
“I am concerned, to be honest with you, that we will lose the trust this time of a part of the public who have been with us until now,” she said.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, however, said she was struck by “the return of a number – although not a really significant number – of a kind of snowflake tears about how oppressive it is to wear a mask”.
Ferrer said she hopes that if a mask order is reinstated, many residents will adhere to it. She said the rules would require businesses to post signs informing the public of the requirement to wear a mask, and the county’s public health department would not ask employees to enforce the rules.
One of the main objections to a new mask mandate is the fact that most people infected these days don’t get seriously ill — a trend that officials and experts attribute to strong vaccine coverage and the ready availability of vaccines. treatments, as well as general changes in the nature of the coronavirus itself.
So far, the peak of hospitalizations in this latest wave is lower than the peak of any previous wave. And officials note that many coronavirus-positive patients are not treated specifically for COVID-19, but accidentally test positive when admitted for other reasons.
“I think now that we’re seeing fewer people getting severe cases of COVID, they just don’t really believe this mandate is necessary,” Hahn said.
Although the overall disease burden is much lower than earlier in the pandemic, health officials note that does not mean it is not having an effect.
Dr Christina Ghaly, director of county health services, said she was not worried that one of the county’s four public hospitals could be overwhelmed. But, due to the high level of community transmission, she said a number of staff were infected and unable to work.
“In hospitals, that means beds are closed or it may take longer to be seen in an emergency department,” she said. “There are a number of ways in which there is an impact on the facilities.”
And even if they don’t require a hospital stay, many patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 are still going to emergency departments and urgent care centers.
“The vast majority need no admission. They are sent home. But that’s still a lot of volume coming into the emergency department,” Ghaly said. “We also see this backup in the [Emergency Medical Services] system with long “wall times” – waiting times for ambulances in emergency departments. This has a negative impact on the system as a whole as ambulances cannot return to the streets.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who chairs the board of supervisors, said she feared such effects on staff “could really put us in a situation where our health care infrastructure would be compromised.”
For some, COVID-19 also remains a serious and dangerous enemy.
In the first half of this year, nearly 4,400 people died from the disease in LA County – twice the typical six-month average number of deaths from drug overdoses, the flu and accidents. car combinations, Ferrer said.
LA County’s weekly coronavirus death rate is starting to climb again. As of Tuesday, LA County was recording 106 COVID-19 deaths per week, a 23% week-over-week increase. A month ago, LA County was reporting about 50 deaths per week.
The weekly per capita death rate for LA County – 105 deaths per week for 10 million people – is 67% worse than that of the San Francisco Bay Area, which reports 63 deaths per week for 10 million people. ‘inhabitants.
“When you have such a high transmission rate, it will, tragically, lead to more deaths,” Ferrer said. “And I think the question everyone has to ask is, how many deaths do you want to tolerate before you ask people in these extraordinary times of high transmission to put their masks back on?