- Hospitalizations drop below 2,500 and the countdown to removing outdoor mask rules has begun
- New cases, case rates and test positivity rates also continue to fall, though death rates are still high
- “Post-surge” does not mean “post-pandemic” and numbers are still high despite recent drops
- Transmission rates need to drop much further before indoor mask rules can be relaxed
- Common sense prevention measures urged for public and private Super Bowl gatherings
LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has been saying for a while now that we will be officially in the “post-surge” period – which would allow outdoor mask rules to be relaxed – when we have fewer than 2,500 hospitalizations for more than seven consecutive days. Yesterday was our first day below that threshold, with 2,464 hospitalizations, which means that if the trend continues, mask rules for outdoor mega-events, and outdoor spaces at child care facilities and Pre-K-12 schools could be adjusted as soon as next Wednesday.
In her weekly press address on Thursday afternoon, Ferrer reported 2,464 hospitalizations yesterday, which for the first time in many weeks puts us below 2,500 and starts us on that hopeful 7-day countdown to post-surge mask relaxations. And if we do stay below 2,500 hospitalizations for the next six days, Ferrer said, mask rules can be modified.
Reporting additional downward trends, Ferrer noted that our average daily case rate now stands at 74 per 100,000 people, down from 154 just a week ago, and the total number of new cases reported yesterday was 6,276.
Despite the rapidly improving numbers, however, Ferrer once again cautioned that “post-surge,” is not at all the same as “post-pandemic,” and we do still have “high community transmission” rates as defined by the CDC. In fact, she said, our current numbers are still quite high when compared to previous points in the pandemic (and still higher than when the current mask rules were imposed in December), and only feel low at the moment because we’re coming down from the “extraordinary peaks” of the Omicron surge. In any other situation, however, she said, the current case numbers and the other metrics would still seem quite troubling.
“Post-Surge” Masking Plan
As we move out of the current surge period, Ferrer said mask rules will evolve based on several factors, including better access to therapeutic treatments for COVID-19, whether or not new variants threaten to cause further surges, and more.
“Public Health shares this desire to end mask regulations and some changes will be occurring soon,” Ferrer said. “However, the issue in LA County is one of timing. Masks provide an essential layer of protection when transmission is high and the vaccine protection has waned. They help us reduce exposures and drive down our case numbers.” Further, Ferrer said in explaining why we can’t just drop mask rules too quickly, “The costs of high transmissions are not just borne by individuals, and they’re not distributed evenly.” High transmission, she said, leads to “severe disruptions caused by staffing shortages” in many sectors, as well as “high morbidity and mortality for those with high risks and high exposures.”
Also, Ferrer urged people to remember that Omicron is not like a mild cold. “Let’s be really cautious about not assigning to Omicron this label that it causes mild disease,” she said, because it hasn’t been around long enough yet to know whether it, like earlier variants, can cause “long COVID” complications for many people, or mysterious recurrences of symptoms, or what its relationship is to MSIC in children.
So “being cautious still makes sense and finding ways to drive down high transmission remains an appropriate goal for us to embrace as a community,” said Ferrer.
At the same time, however, Ferrer also agreed that because transmission has declined so much recently, this is definitely “the time to consider sensible changes to our mitigation efforts,” and that she hopes that we will be able to lift mask requirements at outdoor mega-events and schools next Wednesday…though it will be a while longer before we can lift indoor mask rules, even though the state of California plans to relax those rules, too next week. The state’s relaxations are only for areas that do not have their own more stringent rules, however, and relaxing indoor mask requirements in Los Angeles will require us to fall from a “high” to a “moderate” transmission rate as defined by the CDC, which means two consecutive weeks in which our average weekly transmission rate is less than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents (or about 730 new cases per day) OR when vaccines have been available for children under the age of 5 for eight weeks (which might not happen as soon as we thought just a few days ago)…AND there are no new variants of concern on the horizon. (So far, Ferrer said the new BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, while even more contagious than the current version, does not seem to cause more serious illness, and has not taken hold in Los Angeles, where only a handful of cases have been previously reported and no new cases were reported this week.)
But Ferrer said that if current trends continue, we may hit that “moderate” transmission tier, and the relaxation of some indoor mask rules, in another 25-30 days. However, she noted that even at that point, LA County rules can never be less restrictive than state and federal guidelines, which currently still require masks to be worn on public transportation, inside childcare centers and schools, and in correctional facilities and homeless shelters.
Finally, Ferrer also said that vaccine mandates, unlike mask rules, won’t be relaxed any time soon, and probably not until the county falls from “moderate” to “low” rates of transmission. In the meantime, even during the official “post-surge” period, vaccine verification will still be required, as they are now, at both indoor and outdoor mega-events, and indoors at bars, lounges, nightclubs, wineries, breweries, and distilleries.
Super Bowl Weekend
Finally, because we do still have officially high transmission rates, Ferrer also urged caution and maintenance of common sense protections for anyone who participates in either public and private Super-Bowl-related events this weekend. These measures include getting vaccinated and/or boosted, getting tested as close as possible to the time of your gathering, and wearing high-quality masks and abiding by masking rules, as outlined below:
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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