Covid: As cases fall, health officials are looking to relax some mask rules throughout the county. Courtesy image

As Los Angeles plans for life post surge, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced upcoming changes to the County’s masking requirements.

Ferrer defined the post surge phase as when the County records less than 2,500 hospitalizations for seven consecutive days. At this times masks will no longer be required outdoors at mega events or at outdoor spaces where masking is currently required such as childcare and K-12 schools.

According to Ferrer, this benchmark was selected as it is the rate at which area hospitals have said they are able to take care of COVID-19 patients and also carry out the rest of their customary business.

Currently, daily hospitalizations have dropped below 3,500, which is a speedy and significant improvement as on Jan. 27 the seven day average for daily hospitalizations was 4,600. At the current rate of decline the County should enter the post surge phase in the coming weeks.

Additionally, once L.A. County reaches two weeks of moderate transmission rates—as defined by the CDC standard of less than 50 new cases per 100,000 in the last seven days—masks will also no longer be required at indoor establishments. This includes indoor offices, worksites and events. These rules will apply as long as case rates remain in the CDC’s moderate tier or lower and there are no emerging reports of significantly circulating new variants of concern.

Masking will continue to be mandatory, regardless of case counts, in locations where it is required by federal regulations. This includes while riding public transportation or while at transportation hubs such as the airport. It will also continue to be required indoors at schools, childcare centers, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.

“As our COVID-19 metrics continue to improve, it’s important to plan for post surge approaches that can minimize COVID-19 risk after our winter surge has ended,” said Ferrer. “Post surge does not imply that the pandemic is over, or that transmission is low, or that there will not be additional unpredictable waves of surges in the future… rather it acknowledges that we are stabilizing with consistent declines from the surge peak and realigns our current public health response to meet current mitigation needs.”

On Feb. 3, the County recorded 11,548 new cases, which is down 75 percent from the record high of nearly 46,000 daily cases recorded at the peak of the winter surge. The average number of daily cases reported over the last seven days was 15,600, which marks an almost 50 percent decrease from the 28,000 average reported for the prior seven days.

Although these metrics continue to decline, Ferrer said that it is not possible to predict the end of the pandemic nor what public health measures will be necessary to respond to future changes in transmission. However, she was optimistic about the future of the pandemic, noting that even in the worst of this winter’s surge L.A. County was able to use public health strategies to keep most sectors of the economy open.

“I’m grateful to everyone for continuing for two very long years to take care of each other and for taking responsibility to layer in masking and other protections that help us move closer to our post surge phase and less virus transmission,” said Ferrer. “I look forward to transitioning to post surge.”

Clara@smdp.com