LA County moves closer to potential mask requirement as coronavirus hospitalizations rise

With the number of hospital admissions positive for the coronavirus on the rise in Los Angeles County, officials said the nation’s most populous county could be ready to see a new universal inner mask mandate later this month if upward trends continue.

“Our weekly number of cases and the rate of increase in hospitalizations are alarming,” Barbara Ferrer, director of LA County Public Health, said Thursday. “If we continue on the current trajectory… we will probably go to the CDC high” [COVID-19] community level within a few weeks by the end of June, indicating increased pressure on the health care system.”

The concerns come as Alameda County, the Bay Area’s second most populous county and home to Oakland, ordered a new mask mandate in most indoor areas effective Friday, citing worsening coronavirus cases and rising hospital admissions. That makes Alameda the first county in California to issue a universal order for indoor masks since the end of the winter Omicron peak.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking when a county enters the high COVID-19 community level, the worst in a three-tier system.

Entering the high COVID-19 community level means new weekly hospital admissions or hospital capacity will be impacted by coronavirus positive patients in such a way that hospital systems could come under pressure.

The CDC placed 13 counties in California at the high COVID-19 community level on Thursday. It is the first time since mid-March that a county in the state has reached that level.

Nearly 1 in 6 Californians live in a county with a high COVID-19 community level. The affected counties are Santa Clara, Sonoma, Solano, Marin and Napa in the San Francisco Bay Area; Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, El Dorado in the Sacramento Valley area; and Monterey, Mendocino, San Benito, and Del Norte elsewhere in Northern California.

In response to Sacramento County’s entry into high COVID-19 community levels, the Sacramento City Unified School District said Thursday it will reinstate a mandate for indoor masks starting Monday.

LA County health officials have already said that once the county enters the high COVID-19 community level, it will lead to a local requirement to wear masks in indoor public areas.

Projections show LA County could hit its worst COVID-19 community level within three weeks, around the official start of summer.

LA County COVID-19 Projection

If the number of new coronavirus-positive hospitalizations remains stable, LA County will enter the high COVID-19 community level by the end of June, leading to a new universal order for indoor masks.

(Los Angeles County Department of Health)

“There is no certainty with this date. The actual number of hospital admissions could rise faster. Or if the number of cases stabilizes or falls over the next two weeks, the rate of increase in hospitalizations could be a lot lower,” Ferrer said.

“Looking to the near future, it reminds us that we ourselves also have the ability to influence where these numbers go. We all have the power to take steps to reduce the amount of viral spread, which will ultimately reduce the number of viral infections. people hospitalized with a positive COVID-19 infection,” Ferrer said.

According to CDC data released Thursday, LA County observed 5.3 new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents, up 18% from the previous week’s rate of 4.5. A percentage of 10 or more would place LA County at a high COVID-19 community level.

Elsewhere in Southern California, Ventura County had a new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalization rate of 7.6; Santa Barbara County, 6.3; Orange County, 5.3; San Diego County, 4.9; and Riverside and San Bernardino counties, 2.9.

Sacramento and Placer counties had the highest weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations in the state, 12.1; and other Bay Area counties also had high rates, with Sonoma and Marin counties reporting 11.8; Solano County, 11.5; Santa Clara and Monterey Counties, 10.1; and San Francisco and San Mateo counties, 9.6.

Some trends in the San Francisco Bay Area point to a possible path where coronavirus-positive hospitalizations will worsen.

The number of new weekly hospital admissions positive for the coronavirus in Alameda County is 75% worse than LA County’s. Alameda County reports a rate of 9.3 weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents, a 26% increase from the previous week, and the county health official expects the area to soon see high COVID-19 community levels. to achieve.

Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties also had the same number of new weekly hospitalizations positive for the coronavirus as Alameda County.

“Daily new admissions of patients with COVID-19 have increased rapidly in recent days and are now exceeding last summer’s peak,” the Alameda County Public Health Department said in a statement Thursday.

“Increasing COVID cases in Alameda County are now leading to more people being hospitalized and today’s action reflects the gravity of the moment,” said Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss in a statement. “We cannot ignore the data and we cannot predict when this wave will end. Putting our masks back on will give us the best chance of limiting the impact of a sustained wave on our communities.”

Alameda County has one of the highest cases of coronavirus in California: as of Monday, 354 cases per week for every 100,000 residents. According to data released Thursday, the rate in LA County is 299 cases per week for every 100,000 residents. A rate of 100 cases or more per week for every 100,000 population is considered high.

Initially, in this second wave of Omicron cases, communities traditionally hard hit by the pandemic were not disproportionately affected. But “that’s no longer true,” Alameda County health officials said, and Latino residents now have the highest number of coronavirus cases in Alameda County.

“Masking provides an extra layer of protection against infection by a virus that spreads through the air. Wearing a high-quality mask protects both the wearer and those around them, and if more people are masked, it will help slow the spread of COVID-19,” Alameda County health officials said.

The mask order in Alameda County requires masks to be worn in indoor businesses and workplaces, including offices, retail stores, theaters, and conference centers, as well as restaurants and bars when not eating or drinking; and on public transportation, including taxis and rideshares, and at Oakland International Airport. Businesses and site operators are required to post signage at all access points to communicate the mask requirement and “make reasonable efforts to ensure compliance in their area,” the health order said.

The Alameda County mask mandate has certain exceptions; the county will not require masking in K-12 school settings for the few remaining days of the traditional school year, nor will the order apply to Berkeley, which has its own public health department. Masks do not need to be worn if you work alone in a closed office or room; while swimming or showering in a gym; or while obtaining any medical or cosmetic service involving the head or face that requires mask removal to perform the service.

Alameda County also allows masks to be optional for performers at indoor live events, such as the theater, opera, symphony, religious choirs, and professional sports; at religious gatherings when necessary to perform rituals; and in indoor gyms and yoga studios by people “actively involved in periods of strenuous exercise”, swimming or diving, or sports where masks pose a health risk, such as wrestling and judo.

Masks are mandatory in other indoor youth settings, including daycare, summer school, and youth programs. Children under 2 years of age are not allowed to wear a mask due to a choking hazard.

Berkeley’s public K-12 school system has already issued a mask order for indoor classrooms, as well as indoor graduations. Other educational institutions have done the same elsewhere in California, including UCLA and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Of all the COVID-19 restrictions issued over the years, a mask order is one of the least onerous for the public, said epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Dr. George Rutherford of UC San Francisco.

“If you’re going to try to get ahead of this and try to limit the damage that’s going on, I think it’s a pretty low demand for people to wear masks,” Rutherford said.

“We’re not talking about lockdowns, we’re not talking about mandatory vaccination, we’re not talking about mandatory testing programs. We’re just talking about wearing masks, which are very effective, especially if both people are wearing masks. And it’s something what we’re used to doing,” Rutherford said.

In LA County and elsewhere, some hospital doctors have pointed out that many coronavirus-positive patients are not receiving treatment for COVID-19 in their hospitals, and that their infection status is secondary to why they were admitted.

In LA County, Ferrer said about 60% of coronavirus-positive patients are treated in public and private hospitals for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus infection, meaning only 40% of them are in the hospital because they are sick with COVID-19 disease.

“But because they are COVID positive, they do put stress on the hospital system,” Ferrer said.

Too many coronavirus-positive patients in hospitals, whether they are sick due to COVID-19 illness or for any other reason, are straining resources because of the additional services the hospital must provide to prevent the patients from spreading the virus to others. vulnerable people .

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