In an address to the LA County Board of Supervisors yesterday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county will likely reach the “high” community tier for COVID-19, as defined by the CDC, on Thursday, July 14. Ferrer predicted this in her weekly public address last Thursday, but yesterday confirmed the trends are holding, and said she expects to make the announcement in an updated address tomorrow. The move to the High tier signals that our health care system is in danger of being stressed by rising transmission and hospitalization rates….and if we remain at that level for two weeks, it will also trigger a return to mandatory masking in most indoor public spaces by the end of this month.
Ferrer also reported yesterday that as well as an increase in cases (green line below), the county is seeing continued increases in hospitalizations (orange line below; up from 886 a week ago to 1,079 on Monday), and, for the first time since last winter, an increasing number of COVID-19-related deaths (blue line).
In addition, as of yesterday, four of the six early alert signal LA County is tracking are now at the “High Concern” level…
And the number of COVID-19-related Emergency Department encounters has been rising steadily as well.
As has been widely reported, the new surge is being fueled mostly by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the Omicron strain of COVID-19. BA.5, in particular, has been called the most transmissible strain of the virus we’ve seen so far, and it’s apparently also the most adept at both evading prior immunity and causing reinfections in people who have already had COVID-19. (Luckily, however, it so far does not seem to be associated with more severe illness.) As of the week ending July 12 (the most recent for which numbers are available), BA.4 and BA.5 were responsible for 39.8% of cases in LA County, up from just 29.4% the week before. And it is currently responsible for at least 70% of the cases across the United States.
Ferrer also reported yesterday that the 7-day average of outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities, places of worship and homeless settings have also been increasing recently.
And Ferrer noted that the idea that COVID-19 is now a mostly mild illness that presents no real danger is definitely a myth. Instead, she said, it’s still one of the leading causes of death in LA County, and will cause more deaths this year than any other contagious disease.
To help fight the current wave, Ferrer says we must take two simultaneous and interconnected approaches: use strategies to reduce the spread of disease (including wearing masks and getting tested before and after gatherings, and when you suspect you’ve been exposed), as well as strategies to reduce the severity of illness when it occurs (including vaccinations, boosters, and therapeutic drugs).
Ferrer said that among these right now, masking is particularly important, since consistent masking has been shown to have a significant effect on case rates.
Finally, Ferrer noted that LA County has continued all along to require masks in health care settings, on public transit, in long-term care centers, shelters and cooling centers, in correctional facilities, and when required by businesses and employers (as well as in several other circumstances), so a return to indoor masking in some additional settings (such as shared office space, manufacturing and retail settings, indoor events, bars and restaurants, and educational settings) won’t be all that different.
Also, she said, masking indoors is not a step backward, but simply an effective tool we can employ when transmission rates climb, as they inevitably will at different times during the ongoing pandemic, to help mitigate the spread of the virus and reduce risks for everyone.