LOS ANGELES — With coronavirus cases surging and hospitalizations worsening, Los Angeles County once again faces the possibility of a renewed public indoor mask mandate.
The return of such rules, which haven’t been on the books since March, is not a given. But with the startling formation of a third straight fall-and-winter wave, officials have said a new order could be implemented shortly after the calendar turns should current trends continue.
“We are seeing a rapid acceleration again,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “This is the time to put that mask back on.”
Any new indoor mask mandate hinges on two metrics related to the pressure COVID-19 is exerting on hospitals in the nation’s most populous county.
One of the two triggers, which are based on criteria developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has already been met. The second could be only weeks away.
A new mandate would be on the table should 10% of all staffed inpatient hospital beds in L.A. County be filled with coronavirus-positive patients. That has happened for a sustained period of time only twice in the pandemic — both during the last two deadly winter surges.
According to the most recent data, 6.8% of hospital beds in L.A. County are being used by coronavirus-positive patients, up from 2% at the start of November. Should current trends hold, the figure could hit 10% around Dec. 19, Ferrer said in an interview Tuesday.
L.A. County officially reassesses its data every Thursday, the same day the CDC issues its weekly report. Should L.A. County still be above that threshold on Dec. 22 — and remain so for two weeks — a mask mandate would be announced Jan. 5 and go into effect a day later.
The mandate could be canceled if cases and hospitalizations stabilize or decrease. Or it could come sooner if conditions deteriorate faster than expected.