LA County moves closer to possibly returning to indoor mask requirement as hospitalizations increase

Denise Dador Image
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
LA County moves closer to returning to indoor mask requirement
With COVID infections continuing to rise in L.A. County, and hospitalization numbers increasing, officials urged residents and businesses to don masks before they become mandatory -- which could happen by month's end.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- If Los Angeles County were to reach the CDC's "high" virus activity category later this month, indoor mask mandates for the region would be triggered shortly after.

Some people are not waiting to don masks.

The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District announced it's requiring indoor masking until July 5.

With COVID-19 infections continuing to rise in the county, and hospitalization numbers increasing over the past several weeks, county officials urged residents and businesses Tuesday to don masks before they become mandatory -- which could happen by month's end.

"This may not be a pandemic that ends," county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. "It may simply continue to shift and change and we will live with it one way or another, primarily by vaccination and probably masking. But I think people really want to think the whole thing is over, and that's not helpful to the numbers."

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that if the rate of COVID hospitalization numbers continues rising at the pace it has for the past two weeks, the county would move into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "high" virus activity category by late June. Ferrer said that if the county remains in the "high" category for two straight weeks, the county will re-impose a universal indoor mask-wearing mandate.

But she said there's no reason people should wait to start wearing masks again.

"I do want to encourage everybody to use your masks now," Ferrer said. "... We don't have to wait until things get much worse."

After slight decreases in previous weeks, the seven-day average of new COVID infections in L.A. County is just a little over 4,800 cases

The latest numbers reveal almost 580 COVID-positive people in L.A. County hospitals. This is a 124% jump since last month. The good news is that on average, hospital patients are recovering in about half the time.

"Right now the average length of stay for folks who have that positive COVID diagnosis is somewhere between three and four days. So much, much shorter," said Ferrer.

But more people are getting sick. Emergency room visits for COVID are up six percent across the county and while the region is experiencing hot summer weather, Ferrer is reporting something very unusual.

"We've really never had any influenza in June. We've had more influenza in June this year than we've had for the entire time we've been in the pandemic," she said.

Even though it's late in the season, public health clinics are still offering the flu vaccine.

The latest modeling shows L.A. County could enter the CDC's highest level for community concern for COVID by the end of this month. But, officials are hoping cases will level off. Yet, the increase in the more infectious omicron subvariants is making it difficult to call.

"The reason nobody wants to stand too firmly on the projections is because we are seeing an increase in BA.4 and BA.5. More infectious could lead to more spread if it starts taking over," Ferrer told county supervisors.

On the vaccine front, an FDA committee voted unanimously in favor of authorizing the Moderna vaccine for kids ages 6 to 17.

Currently, only Pfizer's vaccine is available for kids over 5 years old. Moderna's vaccine, which was stalled in the regulatory process for months, would give parents another choice.

It's not clear whether adding a pediatric version of Moderna will encourage more parents to vaccinate their kids.

More than 25 million eligible kids between the ages of 5 and 17 are still unvaccinated, and only about 44% are fully vaccinated.

City News Service contributed to this report.