Recent declines in cases and coronavirus-positive hospitalizations could pull Los Angeles County back from the brink of a new universal public indoor mask mandate.
County health officials have said they won’t decide whether to impose the long-looming order until later this week, but noted Tuesday that improvements in some COVID-19 metrics could prompt a delay.
A potential pause of the face covering order would mark a turnaround for the nation’s most populous county. That measure appeared likely as of the end of last week, much to the chagrin of some residents, business groups and elected leaders who characterized it an unnecessary and ineffectual overreach.
But a few days can make quite a difference.
Last Wednesday, 1,329 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized countywide. That total plunged to 1,200 by Friday before creeping up again over the weekend, to 1,286 as of Monday.
It’s too soon to say whether this latest wave has peaked — especially as the ultra-contagious BA.5 Omicron subvariant is still widespread. But County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted Tuesday the county has also recently seen a decline in newly reported infections.
“It’s important to note we had three instances earlier this spring and summer where we saw dips in cases that were followed shortly by increases,” she added. “So it’s important for us to continue to be cautious and prepared for layering in additional protections.”
Ferrer had said L.A. County would reimpose an indoor mask mandate if it reached the high COVID-19 community level defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and remained there for two consecutive weeks.
Placement in that category — the CDC updates its assessments every Thursday — means a county is recording both a significant amount of community transmission and at least 10 new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents.
L.A. County entered the high level on July 14 and remained there last week. However, citing data available through Saturday, the CDC reported rate had fallen to exactly 10.
“Should we see sustained decreases in cases, or the rate of hospital admissions moves closer to the threshold for medium, we will pause implementation of universal indoor masking as we closely monitor our transmission rates,” Ferrer said.