County line: Orange County’s current Covid outbreak is worse than Los Angeles’ . Courtesy image

Los Angeles County has been under the threat of a new mask mandate for several weeks and while the area inched closer to the threshold with new data released on Thursday, officials also said they’ve changed the way they report cases to better reflect the situation in Los Angeles county specifically. 

A mask mandate would occur based on the County’s position in the CDC’s community-level ranking system. Under the Low-Medium-High system, the county has been in the Medium range with metrics for case rates, new Covid admissions at hospitals and the proportion beds occupied by Covid patients steadily rising. However, the CDC has been evaluating the hospital measurements as a combined metric for Los Angeles and Orange Counties. 

On Thursday, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, with the Department of Public Health, said her office would start to evaluate the levels based solely on Los Angeles data as the two counties have divergent so significantly that a combined measurement no longer makes sense. 

The County’s total admission rate is 8.4 per 100,000 people this week and while that is 62 percent higher than it was a month ago, it’s far below Orange County’s rate of 13.3. 

With a seven-day average of about 5,100 cases, Los Angeles would move up to the High level if the admission rate or the bed percentage crossed 10 percent. 

Ferrer said no one could say with any accuracy when, or even if, the County’s levels might cross the threshold but July 29 was the first possible date a mask mandate could occur in a worst-case scenario. 

She said any decision to implement a mask requirement would occur before deaths and hospitalizations spiked to levels that would cause stress on the healthcare system. 

“I think we all are in agreement that waiting until hospitals are overwhelmed is way too late to try to do much about slowing transmission,” she said. “The time to slow transmission is when you start seeing indications that you’re having more utilization at your hospitals.”

Ferrer said it’s impossible to stop transmission entirely but slowing the spread significantly would help prevent the kind of problems that have occurred in past winter surges. While some counties have crossed into the High tier without a mask rule, Ferrer said that masks were an appropriate response locally given the County’s size and the widely differing abilities of residents to manage their risk as many residents cannot isolate, work from home or implement some of the other safety measures available. 

“There are many people who, in particularly in essential work environments, would benefit if more people around them, were actually using some of the safety precautions that we know work and that’s the case with masking,” she said. “So yes, super important and super effective for each of us to put on a well-fitting, high filtration mask, but it’s a lot better, particularly if you’re at work and you’re going to have hundreds of exposures, if everyone that’s around you also is wearing that well-fitting mask.”