Officials consider mask requirements as Covid cases, hospitalizations rise – deadline

Across the country this week, a growing chorus of public health officials consisting of a single word: “masks” can be heard.

Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer recommended in a Zoom with reporters today, “Everyone ages two and older should wear a mask at indoor gatherings such as businesses, restaurants, and indoor schools.”

Also last Friday, a group of Bay Area health officials issued a rare joint statement strongly recommending, but not requiring, residents to return to wearing face coverings indoors.

“If you’ve recently decided not to wear a mask in public indoor spaces, now is a good time to start again,” said Dr. George Han, deputy health commissioner for Santa Clara County, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

A little further south, the Pacific Grove Unified School District in Monterey, Calif., decided Monday to require all students and staff to wear masks indoors starting Tuesday due to a spike in infections there.

School districts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois did the same this week.

Senior officials in the Biden administration warned Wednesday that a third of Americans live in communities the CDC classifies as high risk (orange on the map below) and recommends making masks mandatory in those areas.

us community levels covid

Areas in orange indicate high transmission

“We call on local leaders to encourage the use of prevention strategies like masks in indoor public spaces and increase access to testing and treatment,” said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

About two weeks ago, the CDC issued a new recommendation that masks should be worn by everyone two years and older “in indoor areas of public transportation (like airplanes, trains, etc.) and transportation hubs (like airports, train stations, etc.).” The CDC also encouraged people to wear face coverings “in crowded or poorly ventilated places like passenger boarding bridges.”

New York City, which had some of the strictest requirements last year, will not return to masking despite being placed in the high-risk category this week amid a spike in hospitalizations. Mayor Eric Adams said he doesn’t want to mandate masks, although the CDC recommends it.

“If we get thoughts of shutdown with every variant that comes up, we panic, we’re not going to function as a city,” Adams said, according to the New York Times.

Would he consider them for schools? “No,” Adams replied.

The answer is different in LA, where Ferrer reiterated over the past week — plus a version of what she said today: “Once we’re deemed senior, we’ll be demanding those masks indoors again.”

The county isn’t there yet, but the rising rate of Covid spread in Los Angeles has meant it was moved from the CDC’s “low” virus level to “moderate” today.

The local seven-day cumulative rate of new Covid cases rose to 202 per 100,000 people, up from about 176 per 100,000 last week, according to federal and county data. With a tally over 200, the county is now considered a “moderate” municipality, a designation that includes recommendations for heightened precautions against the spread of the virus.

However, the move will not trigger any immediate changes in local health regulations. LA had already reinforced precautionary advice that conforms with the CDC’s guidelines — like masking on public transit and in high-risk environments like hospitals, doctor’s offices and homeless shelters.

“We hope that by implementing strong prevention measures in the community, we can avoid going too high,” Ferrer told reporters.

That means “businesses and individuals don’t have to shy away from tighter security measures,” she said, noting that this includes covering indoor spaces.

According to CDC guidelines, counties in the middle category become too high when the rate of new virus-related hospitalizations reaches 10 per 100,000 population or when 10% of the county’s occupied hospital beds are occupied by COVID-positive patients.

Ferrer said today that the county’s current rate of new Covid admissions is 3.4 per 100,000 residents and the rate of hospital beds occupied by COVID-positive patients is just under 1.7%.

However, about a week ago, the daily hospitalizations of people with Covid in the region began to creep up. From 252 last Thursday, they rose to 312 virus-positive patients in county hospitals this Monday, 327 on Tuesday, 363 on Wednesday and 379 today. While the numbers are still relatively small, that’s an increase of about 50% in one week .

Over the same period, cases have risen from 3,407 last Thursday to 4,725 today, a 38% increase in one week.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus, while still relatively low, rose 34% from a 7-day average test positivity of 2.6% last Thursday to 3.5% today.

With hospitalizations generally lagging infections by a couple of weeks, rising case and test positivity seems to point to a substantial increase in Covid-related hospitalizations by the end of the month.

The City News Service contributed to this report.

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