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Los Angeles Again Nearing Covid Thresholds For Universal Indoor Mask Mandate In Public Spaces

Another 4,744 Covid infections were reported today by Los Angeles County. That’s up from 4,353 yesterday, continuing a surge in daily cases that could soon lead to a renewed requirement for people to wear masks in all indoor public spaces.

The county has been logging steady increases in daily infections and hospitalizations since the beginning of November. As of Friday, the county’s average daily number of new infections over the past seven days was 3,053, up a little under 50% from the 2,121 average a week ago.

According to state figures, there were 1,171 Covid-positive patients in county hospitals as of Friday, up from 1,164 a day earlier. Of those patients, 131 were being treated in intensive care units, up from 121 on Thursday.

Another 14 deaths were also reported Friday, which marks a rise from the 9-10 daily deaths the county has seen over the past few weeks.

There is some good news, however: The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 12.2% today. While high, that number is actually down from 13.4% over the past few days and could signal a plateauing of cases.

Even so, hospitalizations would likely continue to rise, given that data point tends to lag changes in cases by about two weeks. The average daily number of Covid-positive patients in county hospitals was 1,056 as of Friday, up 39% from a week ago.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday that the rising case and hospitalization numbers have moved Los Angeles County from the “low” Covid community activity level to the “medium” category, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said the county is on pace to reach the “high” level in a matter of days, when the rate of new cases reaches 200 per 100,000 residents. The rate is currently 185 per 100,000 residents.

The move to medium does not prompt any immediate changes to public health mandates, such as indoor masking — which is already “strongly recommended” by the county.

But masking could again become mandatory indoors in a matter of weeks, Ferrer said.

The masking mandate would return if the county enters the “high” community level, which is expected by next week, and if the county’s virus-related hospitalization numbers reach two thresholds — if the rate of daily hospital admissions tops 10 per 100,000 residents and the percent of staffed hospital beds occupied by Covid patients tops 10%. If all metrics remain above those thresholds for two weeks, the public health department has said it would reinstitute a “universal indoor mask mandate.”

The county has already surpassed the first threshold, with the rate of daily hospital admissions already at 11.9 per 100,000 residents as of Thursday. But the level of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients was still 5.9% as of Thursday, below the 10% threshold.

The last time L.A. was close to a mask mandate was late July, when numbers finally moved lower on the day the rule was to have seen implemented. At the time, the cities of Beverly Hills, El Segundo, Long Beach and Pasadena announced that they would not enforce any such mandate. Long Beach and Pasadena have their own health departments which issues their own orders, and so they are not subject to the L.A. County mandate.

About half of California’s 58 counties have moved back into the medium level of community spread, including Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Clara, which are among the most populous.

Masks are currently required indoors at health-care and congregate-care facilities, for anyone exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and at businesses where they are required by the owner.

Ferrer again noted that the actual number of Covid infections in the community is likely much higher than the official numbers reflect — thanks to the prevalent use of at-home tests that aren’t reported to the county, and due to the number of people who are likely sick but don’t get tested at all.

The current surge is being blamed largely on a pair of new variants of the virus, known as BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Both are offshoots of the BA.5 variant that was blamed for rises in infection numbers earlier this year.

“While there still is uncertainty about what the impact of Covid-19 will be this winter, there is mounting evidence that we are entering another Covid-19 surge,” Ferrer said in a statement.

“In some ways this surge is likely to be different — we know more about Covid, have tools to help mitigate severe outcomes, and we are more aware of symptoms and when to take action. On the flip side, this will be the first winter where we are facing rising levels of Covid, with emerging new strains we know less about, along with unusually high flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) activity.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

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