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LA County COVID surge raises prospect of return to indoor masking order

Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — Coronavirus case and hospitalization rates have risen dramatically in Los Angeles County, which on Thursday reentered the medium COVID-19 community level for the first time since the end of the summer omicron wave.

The increasing rates of hospitalization — which are so rapid they are coming as a surprise to officials — raise the prospect of a return to an indoor mask mandate in L.A. County in the coming weeks, based on previously established criteria by local public health officials. But it remains uncertain whether that threshold will be met.

L.A. County’s coronavirus case rate has been increasing since late October, triple what it was in the autumn low. For the week that ended Thursday, L.A. County was recording 2,710 cases a day — or 188 cases a week for every 100,000 residents. A case rate of 100 or more is considered high. The autumn low was a weekly rate of 60, set on Oct. 21.

Coronavirus-positive hospitalizations also are up dramatically. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 1,196 new admissions of coronavirus-positive patients for the week that ended Tuesday — triple the rate from the beginning of November.

On a per capita basis, that’s 11.9 new weekly hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents. A rate exceeding 10 is enough to send L.A. County to the medium COVID-19 community level.

“These numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday. “We feel like we’re seeing a much more rapid acceleration than we want to be seeing at this point.”

 

Should hospital measures worsen, L.A. County could be on track for the return of a mandatory mask mandate in indoor public settings. But that threshold — if it were to be reached — is likely a few weeks away, perhaps in late December.

To get there, the rate would need to be higher than now — exceeding 200 cases a week for every 100,000 residents. L.A. County could hit that threshold next week.

But before a mask mandate were triggered, the percentage of hospital beds used by coronavirus-positive patients also would need to exceed 10%, a level reached only during the two prior COVID-19 winter surges, the deadliest of the pandemic. The current figure is 5.6%, which is up from around 2% at the start of November.

Ferrer said she doesn’t expect L.A. County to hit that hospitalization rate anytime soon. “I don’t think it’ll be there next week. I’d be very surprised,” Ferrer said. “It would mean that hospitalizations are really going up very, very quickly, much more quickly than we usually see.”

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