Los Angeles County has made tremendous strides in the fight against the coronavirus, but one of the tools officials write the most for turning the tide – a statewide mandate for indoor masks – is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
While coronavirus case rates have plummeted in LA County in the past few weeks, health officials say the transmission is still too high to override interior mask orders.
LA County is rated Community-wide by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the second worst category on the agency’s four-point scale, identified by the orange color on the agency’s website. The worst level is high community broadcast, which is colored red.
The CDC recommends that even fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in indoor public spaces in areas of significant or high transmission.
On Thursday afternoon, the county reported 98.88 weekly coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents, CDC data shows.
To move to the next level – moderate broadcast in the community, colored yellow on CDC maps – the county would have to have fewer than 50 weekly cases per 100,000 residents, an LA County’s threshold fell between last winter’s rise and the Delta variant wave under that was noticed in the summer.
That means LA County’s weekly coronavirus case rate would have to be cut almost in half to achieve moderate community transmission. That probably won’t happen any time soon; It took LA County a month – from late August to late September – for the weekly case rate to drop from about 200 weekly cases per 100,000 population to 100.
Health officials in the country’s most populous county have not provided any specific metrics or criteria that would signal an end to the mandate for people to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces.
Instead, the repeal of this ordinance will be based on several factors including the extent of prevalence in the community and the number of residents vaccinated.
“The most important action we’re considering is to return to low transmission,” LA County’s director of public health Barbara Ferrer said during a briefing Thursday. “The lower the transmission, the fewer viruses circulate, the lower the likelihood that we will all infect each other or infect others.”
LA County was the first in California to issue a new indoor mask mandate in mid-July in response to the latest wave of coronavirus. The rules, which a number of other counties have since passed, stipulate that residents must wear masks indoors, in venues or in other public spaces, even if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
June, the month LA County and the rest of California abandoned indoor masking rules, coincided with the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, causing significant increases in disease transmission and hospital stays, but still well below that Heights of devastating winter surge.
Face covering for unvaccinated persons is required indoors nationwide. However, California only recommends – and does not require – vaccinated residents to do the same.
Officials have consistently credited LA County’s early resumption of mask rules for helping to get the upper hand on the Delta variant.
To even consider lifting the mask mandate, public health officials want coronavirus transmission rates to fall to moderate levels as defined by the CDC, said Dr. LA County Health Officer Muntu Davis during a meeting at City Hall last week.
“We would like the county to be exempt from high or significant community transmission of COVID-19 before we waive or waive this requirement for wearing masks in public indoor spaces,” said Davis. Until LA County can reach that point, it is advisable to maintain other layers of protection against the virus.
Earlier this week, Santa Cruz County lifted its indoor face covering mandate after the region temporarily reached the CDC-defined moderate levels of community coverage.
“Face covers and vaccinations continue to be the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect yourself and your loved ones from infection,” officials wrote in a statement. “It is highly recommended that you continue to wear face covering in all indoor spaces.”
By Thursday, however, Santa Cruz County had slipped back into the major community broadcasts category.
Ferrer noted Thursday that “we indicated from the start that if the transmission was lower, we would consider lifting the masking mandate.”
However, she added, “If we have worrying varieties that are highly contagious, it may not be the time to lift this mask requirement if you don’t have much more vaccine protection.”
Some elected officials in California have asked health officials to further define when they could relax the mask requirement. “It is very important to all of us to maintain the public’s trust. And I’m very concerned that without a final or a goal that trust will crumble, ”said Susan Ellenberg, Santa Clara district manager, at a public meeting in late August.
Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s Director and Public Health Officer, said, “We need to see our hospitals settle down, our cases low and shallow, and somewhat stable, before we would recommend that we end this very important preventive measure. ”
Like Santa Cruz County, Santa Clara County was placed in the moderate category earlier this week, but dropped back down to a lower category later in the week.
The Delta variant, the most transmissible version of the coronavirus to date, remains the dominant strain circulating across the country.
For the past week, Los Angeles County has reported an average of 1,307 new coronavirus cases per day – about 29% fewer than two weeks ago, according to The Times.
During that time, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has dropped from 1,156 to 872 nationwide.
Some experts have suggested that mask requirements can be relaxed if there are five or fewer COVID-19 patients in hospitals for every 100,000 residents. However, in LA County there are nine hospitalized COVID-19 patients for every 100,000 residents.
The average number of daily COVID-19 deaths has also shrunk by about 28% in the past two weeks. Despite this decline, an average of two dozen Angelenos are still falling victim to the pandemic every day.
“These are largely preventable deaths and they remain a tragic reminder of the destructive potential of this virus, especially among the unvaccinated,” Ferrer said.