As coronavirus case numbers continue to rise throughout the Southland, local public health leaders are warning that the surging cases could bring about the return of indoor masking.
Currently sitting in the "medium" community level of COVID-19 activity, Los Angeles Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has warned that the county could return to the "high" level as soon as next week, which could push leaders to reinstate the universal indoor masking mandate.
"There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us," Ferrer said during a press conference on Thursday.
On Thursday, the county reported 4,493 new cases of COVID-19, a noted increase over numbers reported at this time last week. 1,164 of those with the virus were hospitalized, 40% of which were admitted due to coronavirus related symptoms. 121 are being treated in intensive care units.
According to the latest numbers released Thursday, the county is now\ averaging more than 2,700 new COVID infections per day, a 180% increase since Nov. 1. Daily virus-related hospital admissions are at 192 per day, a 200% jump since Nov. 1.
"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," Ferrer said.
When the county began to noticeback in early November, officials returned to "strongly recommending" that residents consider wearing masks indoors, especially in crowded places.
With numbers continuing to climb in the time since, Ferrer says that the county could move into the "high" tier by next Thursday's weekly report.
"It does signal that case rates and hospitalizations are elevated, and we could be in the `high' community level as soon as next week," she said.
To move into the high tier, the county's cases would again have to reach 200 cases per 100,000 residents.
However, moving into that level of COVID activity would not immediately cause officials to reinstate the mandate. Ferrer said the mandate would be issued if two hospital metrics reach CDC thresholds: a daily average admission rate of more than 10 per 100,000 residents and a greater than 10% rate of staffed inpatient beds being occupied by COVID patients.
As of Thursday, the hospital admission rate already exceeds that threshold, at 11.9 new admissions per 100,000 residents. The percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients still sits well below the 10% threshold though, currently at 5.6%.
Health officials have been warning about a possible surge not only of COVID-19 during the winter months, but also of flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Authorities have repeatedly urged residents to ensure they are up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and to get a flu shot.
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