UPDATED: Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said today that the county is still seeing declines in all of its major Covid metrics, including slowing case numbers and stabilizing hospitalizations and deaths. She says given the improvements, “we may be positioned to pause the implementation of universal masking,” which is due on Friday. The determination will not be made until Thursday.
Ferrer told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors that if the hospital admission rate of new COVID patients falls by Thursday near the rate of 10 per 100,000 residents, it would “trigger a reassessment on the need to re-implement an indoor masking mandate.” As of last Thursday, the rate was 11.7 new admissions per 100,000 residents.
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Also last Thursday Ferrer said, “should we start seeing steep declines in our [case] numbers next week, because we know hospitalizations are this lagging indicator, we are likely to want to take a pause on moving too quickly on indoor universal masking. Because if our cases start a steep decline, it’s likely that our hospitalizations will take a steep decline [two weeks later].”
Case numbers have shown a softening, with Saturday’s tally dropping to 6,914 from 8,691 just two days before. But weekend numbers are always lower due to reporting delays, and backlogged case numbers generally rise through the week, making this Thursday’s case count particularly crucial.
Test positivity — a better metric for spread since it is a percentage of all tests averaged over seven days — has also fallen rapidly, from a high of 15.5% last Monday to 14.3% today.
PREVIOUSLY on July 21: Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer today gave Angelenos a ray of hope on the looming prospect of a universal countywide mask mandate next week.
While caveating her statement with “I think it’s highly likely we could stay in High” — meaning the CDC’s High community category — “should we start seeing steep declines in our [case] numbers next week, because we know hospitalizations are this lagging indicator, we are likely to want to take a pause on moving too quickly on indoor universal masking. Because if our cases start a steep decline, it’s likely that our hospitalizations will take a steep decline [two weeks later].”
Hospitalizations are the chief measure by which the CDC determines community levels.
Ferrer then offered this observation: “You all look at the same numbers I do. You can see we’re at the cusp between medium and high. It isn’t going to take much to move us back into that medium community level if we can get our case numbers to go lower.”
The number of daily cases in the county hit a six month high on Thursday at 8,691, but Ferrer said today that wastewater Covid counts offer some hope.
“We may be seeing a plateauing or even a slight decrease at plants that are serving the western portions of the county,” she indicated.
Wastewater is thought to be among the most reliable measures of disease spread, especially since so many people use at-home tests, the results of which go unreported.
Still, with a test positivity rate rising to 16.4% today, the momentum of transmission may be too strong for case numbers to drop substantially anytime soon.
If required, masking would begin next Friday, July 29th.
Earlier in the day, an alliance of Los Angeles County business groups today called on health officials to abandon plans for the mask mandate, saying the move would be “heavy-handed” and a burden on businesses that will be forced to enforce the rule.
“This is not a debate about choosing between lives and livelihoods,” Tracy Hernandez, founding CEO of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, or BizFed, said in a statement.
“This is a discussion about educating and empowering Angelenos to make smart choices about protecting their health, our workers and the region’s collective ability to weather this latest wave of infections. We can do better than a heavy-handed mandate at this stage of pandemic recovery and endemic recalibration.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
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