‘No one wants masks again’
Los Angeles County inched closer to returning to an indoor mask mandate on Thursday, with the rising number of COVID-19 cases moving the County back into the “medium” COVID activity level.
Since the repeal of state and local indoor mask mandates in the late winter and early spring of this year, fluctuating COVID-19 transmission rates, as well as recent new case rises and new variants, have had counties considering a return of some form of mask mandate. During the summer, Alameda County brought their mandate back briefly, with LA County nearly doing so but dropping plans to do so at the last minute due to both a turnaround of new cases and enormous public outcry.
A dip in cases during the fall quelled fears of a mandate for a time, but with the number of cases climbing again, LA County Public Health Department began to strongly recommend wearing masks indoors last month. The number of cases has continued to increase since. On November 21st, 1,123 new cases of COVID-19 were announced by LA Public Health. On Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said that the number of new cases a day were over 2,700, with an average of 192 COVID-related hospital admissions, with Thursday’s total going well above that average with 4,493 new cases. Since November 1st, the average number of COVID infections a day has gone up 180%, with COVID hospital admissions up 200%.
“There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us,” Ferrer said on Thursday. “Given both the increases in hospitalizations and the lack of certainty in the winter trajectory for COVID-19, continuing some common-sense mitigation strategies that we know work to limit transmission and illness, including masking and being up to date on vaccines and boosters, remains a very sensible approach.”
While the number of cases has pushed the county into the “medium” community level and a “high” level expected sometime in the next few weeks, Ferrer said that a mandate would not be put into effect until CDC thresholds were met. Specifically, a mandate would not happen until there was an average COVID admission rate of more than 10 out of 100,000 residents in the County and that 10% or more inpatient hospital beds had COVID patients.
“However, it does signal that case rates and hospitalizations are elevated, and we could be in the ‘high’ community level as soon as next week,” added Ferrer.
Many healthcare workers noted that reaching the CDC thresholds would take some time to meet, and would likely not be reached until after Christmas.
“If they are met, and that is still a big if, there would still be other County thresholds to meet, as well as a two week period to make sure those rates stayed that high,” Luisa Renteria, a nurse in Los Angeles who has assisted COVID patients since March 2020, told the Globe on Thursday. “That’s what stopped the mandate from returning this summer, and in all likelihood, would stop it again in, say, January or February.”