The number of COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals fell below 2,500 Thursday, opening the door for a possible lifting of the county’s outdoor mask-wearing mandate as early as next week for large events, schools and childcare centers.
According to state figures, there were 2,464 COVID-positive patients in local hospitals as of Thursday, down from 2,597 on Wednesday. Of those patients, 492 were being treated in intensive care, a drop from 528 a day earlier.
Under guidelines announced last week by county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, if the hospitalization number stays below 2,500 for seven consecutive days, the county will consider itself to be entering a “post- surge” phase, and it will lift its mask mandate for outdoor “mega-events” and outdoors at schools and childcare centers. Ferrer said Thursday that absent a sudden increase in hospitalizations, the outdoor mask mandate could be lifted as early as next Wednesday.
“I want to emphasize that ‘post-surge’ does not mean the pandemic is over or that transmission is low or that there will not be additional unpredictable waves or surges in the future that will require integrated public health measures,” Ferrer said. “Rather, it acknowledges that we’re stabilizing with consistent declines from the surge peak and it realigns our current public health response to meet the current public health needs.”
While the outdoor masking requirements could be lifted next week, the indoor masking mandate will remain in place until much stricter criteria are met. That’s in spite of the state planning to lift its indoor mask requirement for vaccinated people next week. According to Ferrer, the county’s indoor mask rule will not be lifted until the county’s virus-transmission rate falls to the “moderate” level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for two straight weeks, or until COVID vaccines have been available to children under 5 years old for eight weeks.
Reaching the CDC’s “moderate” designation requires the county to have a cumulative, seven-day new case rate of less than 50 per 100,000 residents. According to the CDC’s website, the county’s rate was 622 per 100,000 as of Thursday. That’s down from 1,098 per 100,000 residents on Monday.
Ferrer said the county’s rate has been dropping roughly by about 3.5% every day, and if that pace continues, the county could reach the “moderate” transmission level in 25 to 30 days. If so, the indoor mask mandate could potentially be lifted by late March. She also noted that vaccines for children under age 5 could potentially be approved by the end of February.
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger this week again said the criteria was too stringent, and “not even realistic.” She urged the county to align with the state to lessen confusion among residents. However, her board supervisors were content to stick with the current criteria.
Ferrer reiterated Thursday that she believes it is still too soon to lift the indoor mask requirement.
“As we think about the post-surge strategies that will be in place shortly, I want to note that we have remained open during this very damaging surge because we used an extensive set of protection measures that helped diminish the impact of Omicron,” she said, referring to the highly transmissible COVID variant. “And we’re going to need to continue to use some of these strategies post surge.”
Ferrer noted that vaccine-verification or testing requirements will remain in place at indoor and outdoor “mega-events,” and for indoor portions of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, breweries and lounges.
The county on Thursday reported another 81 COVID-related deaths. The new fatalities gave the county a pandemic total of 29,690. Another 6,276 new cases were also confirmed Thursday, giving the county a cumulative total of 2,746,866. The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 4.7% as of Thursday, a rate that has been holding steady each day this week. The most recent figures show that as of Feb. 6, 82% of all eligible county residents aged 5 and older have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, 73% are fully vaccinated and 35% are fully vaccinated with a booster shot.
For the overall county population of about 10.3 million people, 78% have received at least one dose, 70% are fully vaccinated and 33% are vaccinated and boosted.
Ferrer noted that during the week that ended Feb. 6, the county administered its lowest number of first vaccine doses since the shots became available.