County health officials are again warning of a potential indoor mask mandate based increased cases of COVID-19. 

This week, the county moved from the CDC’s low to the medium community level driven by both overall case rates and the number of people in local hospitals. According to the Director of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County is reporting a rate of 185 new cases per 100,000 residents and 12 hospitalizations per 100,000 people. The proportion of staffed patient beds occupied by COVID patients also increased from 3% on November 17 to 5.6% this week.

If case rates increase to 200 per 100,000 and the hospitalization numbers remain at current levels, the county would bump into the high tier, triggering an indoor mask mandate. 

Ferrer said the number of reported cases has been increasing by about 4% a day and while it’s certainly an undercount due to many residents using at home tests, it’s statistically possible for the county to hit the mask mandate threshold as early as next week. 

While such a rapid acceleration was possible, she said it was more likely the county would see a increase for a couple of weeks before hitting the mandate benchmark sometime in mid-December. 

However, she said there is currently time to head off any potential mandates and lower case counts. 

“But these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us. 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,” she said. 

Ferrer also said treatment has vastly improved including the availability of at home medications. She said patients should take advantage of the therapeutic options to prevent the severe symptoms that would require hospitalization. 

“You know, they don’t have to be in the hospital for COVID if they don’t get infected, so it’s the same thing, you know, you don’t get infected with flu, you’re not gonna end up taking up a hospital bed. So we’ve got to do whatever we can right now when we’ve got this window.”

Ferrer said the hospitalization numbers were particularly important this year due to the increases in other infections like the flu and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that has increased in children recently. 

According to Ferrer, efforts to dull this year’s case spike were more difficult due to fatigue on the part of residents who have adapted to a new normal of live with COVID. 

“I do think as we’ve gone back to our customary activities and ways of engaging with others, and we’ve been doing this, in this pandemic for many years now, people have also lost interest in following the data on the pandemic,” she said. “So one of the bigger issues I think we have is that most people are not aware that we’re seeing increases in cases, that we’re seeing increases in the number of people that are being hospitalized.”

She reiterated that the county is currently at the point in the cycle were resident actions can prevent further spread and therefore prevent disruptions to daily life.

She said efforts to prevent one of the viruses would aid in preventing all of them and that if the county were to require masks, it would be doing so based on CDC recommendations, not arbitrary decisions by local officials. 

“I know sometimes it gets painted as it’s like you’re kind of making this up here in LA County, that this is what people should do when we’re in ‘high’, but we’re not. The CDC agrees with us, we agree with CDC, that a reasonable action for everyone to take when you do go into high and you start seeing stress on the healthcare system is to go ahead and mask up because it’s a quick way of trying to reduce transmission, when in fact you see that there’s risk on the healthcare system.”

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...