Variants: The Omicron variant is driving almost all infections in Los Angeles County. Courtesy image variants: The Omicron variant is driving almost all infections in Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles area continues to teeter on the brink of a new mask mandate with some COVID measurements stabilizing while others continue to rise. 

A mask mandate for indoor activity would occur if Los Angeles County moves into a high transmission bracket based on guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and unless trends change, that line could be crossed in a couple of weeks. 

Under CDC guidelines for measuring community risk, Los Angeles County remains in the “medium” category as of now. Hospital admissions are at 7.3 per 100,000 people and while that rate is twice what it was a month ago, it is still below the threshold. If admissions were to reach 10 per 100,000 people, the county would move into the “high” tier, potentially triggering new mask rules if the rate were to be sustained for two weeks. Based on current projections, the county could reach that level by the end of June. 

“I want to note that should we cross the CDC threshold for high community level the county’s position is to align with the CDC framework that calls for universal masking indoors,” said Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer. “We would implement required universal indoor masking after two consecutive weeks of being at the CDC designation.”

The county also reported a doubling of the test positivity rate although that measurement might not reflect an immediate spike in cases. 

Ferrer said the increase in positivity is likely a result of school ending. During the school year, many students were routinely tested regardless of symptoms, creating a large number of negative results in the system. With the end of those school-mandated tests, the pool of individuals getting tested has contracted and concentrated, driving up the positivity rate. The average number of new cases actually declined slightly to 4,700 from 4,900 a week ago. 

Ferrer said it’s important residents understand the value of testing and isolation if they may be ill. 

She said COVID tests may not show a positive result in the very early stages of an infection and individuals who have symptoms but test negative should consider two possibilities: either they are in the early stages of COVID or they have an entirely different, but still infectious, disease such as the flu. 

“Regardless of the test result, when you’re sick, you should stay home away from others at least until you’ve been fever free for 24 hours and your symptoms are resolving,” she said. “If your negative COVID-19 test was an antigen test and/or a self-test. You should continue to stay away from others and test yourself again 24 to 48 hours later. This is because these antigen tests are more likely to miss very early infections. And if you’re using a self-test, make sure that you’re reading and following all the test instructions correctly. If your second test is negative, and you’ve been fever free for 24 hours with resolving symptoms you are most likely not infected with COVID. But if you continue to have symptoms that aren’t resolving, you should consider getting a PCR COVID test and a test for flu.”

The home antigen tests use a different detection method from the doctor-administered PCR tests and Ferrer said each has its advantages. The PCR tests are more accurate but take longer to return results, sometimes up to several days. Due to their sensitivity, a PCR test may return a false positive when administered to someone who has had a COVID infection within 90 days, even if they are no longer infectious. 

Antigen tests return results within in 15 – 30 minutes and are available for home use. However, they are less effective in the early stages of an infection.

She said once someone has tested positive, they should remain in isolation until they test negative or until day 11 following the first symptoms/positive test.

Additional information on testing is available on the County’s website at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/ncorona2019/covidtests/.  

editor@smdp.com