COVID-19 Update: Hospitalization Target Met; Outdoor Mask Rules Relaxed

Daily COVID-19 hospitalizations have remained below 2,500 for the last week now, officially putting LA County in a “post-surge” period.


In her weekly update to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors yesterday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported that the number of new COVID-19 cases has continued to fall quickly over the past week, and so have hospitalizations, helping us meet the official “post-surge” threshold – fewer than 2,500 hospitalizations for at least seven days in a row – that is allowing the County (as of 12:01 a.m. today) to relax its mask requirements for outdoor spaces at mega events (more than 10,000 people), childcare facilities, and Pre-K through 12th grade schools.

As Ferrer first reported last week, hospitalizations fell below 2,500 for the first time last Wednesday, February 9, and they have continued to fall each day since then, with yesterday’s total only 2,054.  Daily reports of new cases, as well as case rates and test positivity percentages, have also continued to fall this week, though daily deaths (which tend to lag behind other indicators) haven’t fallen as quickly yet.



“We remain very encouraged by the steady declines we are seeing across so many of our metrics,” Ferrer said.  But she also cautioned that while we have now met the “post surge” threshold, we still have – overall and compared to other points in the current pandemic – “high” rates of transmission.  So we still have a way to go to get to the more “moderate” or lower rates, as defined by the CDC, that will also allow us to relax indoor mask rules in many places.  To do that, Ferrer said, we will have to reach a target of just 730 or fewer new cases per day for seven straight days…which she estimates we will hit sometime between March 16 and March 30.

“I think being cautious still makes sense and bringing down the high rates of transmission remains an appropriate goal for the community,” Ferrer said.  “Nonetheless, transmission has declined significantly [now] and it is time to consider sensible mitigation efforts,” including today’s relaxation of outdoor masking rules.

But not all outdoor mask rules disappeared overnight.  For example, individual school districts can still make or maintain their own masking rules (as long as they’re not less restrictive than the county rules), and the County’s biggest school district, LAUSD, will not immediately drop its outdoor mask requirements, although it may do so next week.  As new LAUSD Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho tweeted yesterday:



Meanwhile, Ferrer said, more changes will be considered at the County level when we do reach those official “moderate” transmission rates.  At that point, she said, indoor masking rules will likely be lifted, except where state or federal regulations require them, or where specific businesses or business operators might choose to impose them.



Ferrer said indoor mask rules are most likely be relaxed in places that also have “other levels of protection” in place, including high vaccination rates, or requirements for people to be fully vaccinated and/or show proof of a recent negative COVID test.

As of today, the state of California has relaxed both its outdoor and indoor mask rules, but Ferrer noted that not every city in the state has the same current transmission rates, and ours are still higher than state averages…so our indoor mask rules will stay in effect just a bit longer.  Also, while there has been a lot of pressure recently to eliminate indoor masks at schools, Ferrer pointed that even the state did not lift indoor mask requirements for schools yet, and won’t do so until at least February 28, when it is scheduled to announce new school policies.  Until then, she said all California schools will still require masks indoors.



Finally, Ferrer also said yesterday that there are two factors that could either help speed or help hinder our progress toward the moderate transmission target and indoor unmasking.  First, she said, if effective therapeutic drugs, which are fairly scarce and difficult to prescribe at the moment, become more widely and easily available, that could help curb the spread of the virus and get the number of new cases down more quickly.



On the other hand, however, she noted that there is also always the possibility of a new variant emerging that could prompt more new cases, and slow down or reverse our progress.  At this point, however, she said no such variants have been reported, and the BA.2 Omicron subvariant (though it is growing elsewhere) has not made significant inroads in our area, with no new cases reported last week.

Meanwhile, Ferrer’s cautiousness and insistence on relying on CDC-defined targets before relaxing more masking rules have drawn some increasing pressure to move more quickly, especially from Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, who have both stated that they think Los Angeles should align with the state of California, which relaxed most of its indoor masking rules (except for schools) today.

Ferrer, however, reiterated her reliance on local data, rather than statewide expiration dates, for setting unmasking dates…a topic she also discussed in an interview with the New York Times today.  In that story, Ferrer told the Times, “Case rates are all over the place in the state. And that’s why the governor has always been clear that your local health departments will look at the data and make a decision at the local level about what makes sense.”  Ferrer also said in the interview that we probably won’t know for about 10 days whether Sunday’s Super Bowl events – at which many people did not wear masks, but which did have vaccination and negative COVID test requirements – will lead to an uptick in new cases.  So while numbers are still high, and while other variables also play out, Ferrer said, “We’re not in a place where we don’t have to worry about transmission yet.”  At the same time, though, Ferrer said she does believe we will get to that much safer place sometime in the next month…if people can continue to maintain appropriate safety measures until then.


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About Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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