LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Los Angeles County is on pace to require masks indoors again as of July 29, after hitting the "high" level of COVID-19 activity on Thursday.
The county had previously been at 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.
Once the county's rate of daily COVID-positive patients being admitted to area hospitals topped 10 per 100,000 residents, it will enter the "high" category.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday announced that threshold has now been reached for the "high" category.
If the county stays at the high category for two weeks straight, officials would bring back rules requiring the wearing of masks during most indoor public activities. At earliest that would be 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.
The increase is being fueled by new highly-contagious subvariants of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
"While we're not seeing anywhere near the devastation this summer that we saw during last winter's omicron surge, we are seeing much higher case numbers than we saw during the peak of the delta surge," Ferrer said.
"It's unlikely that we're at the peak of this recent surge given the increased circulation of new subvariants of concern, and we already have an average of over 6,400 cases being reported per day."
Masks are already still mandated in some indoor spaces -- healthcare 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 Tuesday, and increase from 1,014 on Saturday. Of those patients, 115 were being treated in intensive care units.
On Tuesday, 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 Tuesday 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% as of Tuesday.