COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths continue to show signs of stabilizing locally, Los Angeles County’s health director said Wednesday, adding that if the trend continues the county might pause plans to reimpose a universal indoor mask-wearing mandate later this week.
Speaking to the Board of Supervisors, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she was “relieved” to report a continued drop in the average daily number of new infections, with the past seven days seeing roughly 6,100 new cases daily, down from 6,700 the previous week.
She also noted a stabilization in virus-related hospitalizations and deaths, with an average of 14 fatalities per day being reported — a number that she stressed remains too high.
But she said that, given the steady declines that have been recorded in virus metrics over the past week and a half, “We may be positioned to pause the implementation of universal masking.” Such a determination will not be made until Thursday, when updated hospital admission rates are released.
Ferrer said earlier a new indoor mask mandate would be imposed on Friday if the county remains in the “high” virus activity category — with a new daily virus-related hospital admission rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents. That number as of last Thursday was 11.7 per 100,000.
Ferrer said Tuesday that if the county is at least approaching the 10 per 100,000 residents level by Thursday, it would “trigger a reassessment on the need to reimplement an indoor masking mandate.”
She stressed during her presentation, however, that transmission of COVID-19 remains high across the county, and the virus is still a leading cause of death, killing more people in the first six months of the year than drug overdoses, the flu and traffic crashes combined.
But the idea of a renewed indoor masking mandate has generated opposition, including from the Los Angeles County Business Federation last week and on Monday from county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who said she believes in the effectiveness of masks, but not of mask mandates. Barger repeated Tuesday that she does not believe there is any “empirical data” proving that a mask mandate will be more effective than what the county does now — which is strongly recommend masks.
“I am adamantly opposed to mandating the masking, because I truly do believe it’s going to have the opposite effect,” Barger said.
Barger earned support Tuesday from Supervisor Janice Hahn, who said she fears imposing a universal mandate “will be very divisive for L.A. County.”
“I honestly believe there are a significant number of the population who are not willing to accept mask mandates at this point,” Hahn said. “And many of them, the ones that have contacted me, pointed out that we do have more tools now than we had at the beginning of the pandemic.
“… Personally I’m worried … that we’re losing the trust this time of a portion of the public that’s actually been with us up to this point,” she said, noting that the city of Beverly Hills announced Tuesday it will not actively enforce a mask mandate if it is imposed.
Hahn suggested that the county consider simply expanding the list of places where masks are still required to include grocery stores and pharmacies, rather than all indoor spaces. Ferrer said her department would consider the idea.
Masks are still mandated in indoor health care 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.
On Tuesday afternoon, the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena — which both have their own health departments separate from the county — announced they will not be imposing mask mandates.
“The (Long Beach) Health Department strongly encourages people to practice personal responsibility and common-sense measures to protect themselves, their loved ones and the greater community from COVID-19,” according to a statement from Long Beach. “People are advised to mask indoors when in public places, conduct rapid testing before and three to five days after social gatherings and choose outdoor activities where possible.”
Both cities said they would continue to monitor the COVID situation. Pasadena officials said they would “consider appropriate public health actions to protect our community as the situation changes.”
While Ferrer conceded that a universal mask mandate might potentially be delayed based on case and hospitalization numbers, she took issue during her presentation with what she called “myths and misinformation” being circulated in the community — including the idea that masking mandates don’t work, or that there is no data to support them.
Ferrer reiterated results of studies she has cited in the past — a Pennsylvania study that found counties with mask mandates had 35% lower COVID infection numbers than those that did not; and an Arkansas study that found 23% lower case rates in school districts with mask mandates.
She also referenced numbers showing sharp increases in worksite COVID outbreaks since Los Angeles County lifted its earlier masking mandate, and an increase in outbreaks at schools when mask mandates were lifted at campuses.
In addition, she again pointed to other well-known health-related mandates — such as no-smoking laws, seat belt requirements and long-standing vaccination mandates for children to attend schools.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl lashed out at people who object to mask wearing, referring to them as “snowflake weepies.”
According to state figures, there were 1,286 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, up from 1,200 on Saturday, the last figures that were available previously. Of those patients, 134 were being treated in intensive care.
The county reported 3,547 new COVID cases Tuesday, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,272,097. Another 17 deaths were announced, lifting the overall death toll to 32,654.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 14.9% as of Tuesday.