Health official warns new mask mandate is coming

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County remains on pace to enter the “high” COVID-19 activity level as early as July 14, the public health director said, and absent a major reversal in virus-related hospitalizations, an indoor mask-wearing mandate will be imposed two weeks later.

The county is already in the “medium” COVID level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on the elevated rate of people being infected with the virus. If the county’s rate of daily COVID-positive patients being admitted to area hospitals tops 10 per 100,000 residents, it will enter the “high” category.

As of July 12, that rate was at 8.8 per 100,000 residents.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, echoing projections she gave last week, told the Board of Supervisors that she expects the county to enter the “high” activity category within days.

“Given the continued increase, we do anticipate by [July 14] the county will move into that high level,” Ferrer said.

If the county remains in the “high” category for two consecutive weeks, a mandatory indoor mask-wearing mandate will be imposed, she said. Under the current pace, that mandate will take effect by July 29.

“I do recognize that when we return to universal indoor masking to reduce high spread, for many this will feel like a step backwards,” Ferrer said.

But she said universal masking “makes a lot of sense because it helps us to reduce risk.”

She again pointed to recent studies showing dramatic reduction in infection risk for people who wear face coverings, particularly for people who wear higher-grade masks, such as N95 or KN95 masks.

Masks are still mandated in some indoor spaces — health care facilities, transit hubs, on transit vehicles, airports, correctional facilities and shelters. A universal mandate would spread the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared office spaces, manufacturing facilities, retail stores, indoor events, indoor restaurants and bars and schools.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger urged Ferrer and health officials to conduct outreach to local businesses to discuss the impacts they could face, “especially when surrounding counties are not considering” a mandate.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl again forcefully backed the idea of requiring masks, saying she has “no patience” for people who won’t wear them.

‘People are just not wearing them when they’re not mandated,” Kuehl said.

According to state figures, there were 1,153 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of July 12. Of those patients, 115 were being treated in intensive care units. The county reported 5,170 new COVID-19 infections, along with 14 new deaths.

The new infections lifted the county’s cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,183,359.

Health officials have warned that the actual number of new infections occurring in the county is not fully reflected in the daily numbers, since many people now rely on at-home tests, the results of which are not always reported to the county.

The 14 new virus-related deaths reported lifted the overall death toll in the county to 32,464. Health officials have said that a majority of the deaths occurred in people with at least one underlying health condition, mainly hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 16.3%.