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Los Angeles County Official Says Never Say Never On Covid Mask Mandates; Daily Cases Doubled In Past 4 Weeks

In their first press conference in months, Los Angeles County Public Health officials announced today that Covid case numbers had “doubled over the past few weeks.”

Four weeks ago, the daily average number of cases was about 264. For the week just passed, officials said the daily average was about 571.

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They stressed that those numbers are still far below where they have been for much of the past three years, but noted, “they’re an undercount, since they don’t include home tests. And the number of actual infections we know is much higher.”

Ferrer promised, however, that there were no immediate big announcements to be made about changes in associated recommendations or requirements.

“There’s nothing that’s changed. We’re not announcing new safety measures today,” assured Barbara Ferrer, Director of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

But, when asked if officials would ever make masks mandatory again, Ferrer was less committal.

“‘Ever’ is not a word I’m comfortable with,” she said. “There’s not that level of certainty with this pandemic. I’m never going to say there’s not going to be a time when we all need to put our masks back on. I am going to say we certainly don’t all need to put our masks back on now. We are at a place where people make their own assessment.”

During the press conference, there was much focus on recent outbreaks at schools and workplaces and, as Deadline first reported, continuing requirements for masks at businesses that have experienced an outbreak.

Asked if there is an increasing number of temporary mask mandates being instituted at workplaces, Ferrer said, “No. It’s standard practice. When there’s an outbreak, our team goes in and makes an assessment. If it seems like there’s a lot of spread or potential for a lot of spread, masks are generally required…It’s a reasonable request. It usually lasts until we close the outbreak. In general 14 to 20 days out we stop seeing new cases associated with the index case and then lift the requirement that people wear masks. If you’re in a business that has multiple stories, we don’t tell everyone to wear a mask. If there’s a reasonable amount of spread we ask the people on the floor where there’s an outbreak to wear masks.”

Remember that Deadline recently reported Lionsgate was requiring employees on two floors of its Santa Monica office to mask up. That order was lifted after a few days.

As for other measures of infection, the county’s test positivity rate has gone up more than 60% in the past month, from close to 10% in early August to 16.5% reported today.

The daily average number of daily hospitalizations has risen from 245 on Aug. 2 to about 521 reported this afternoon.

“However, as you can clearly see, hospitalizations remain well below the high number we saw during 2022 summer and winter surges,” said Ferrer. “In fact, there are only four other periods during the entire pandemic when hospitalizations are lower than what we’re reporting this week.”

She said about 5% of current emergency room visits in the county are related to COVID-19, up from about 3% a month ago.

“We haven’t seen a corresponding increase in deaths,” she said. “Currently we’re reporting an average of one death per day…This could be because deaths… are a lagging indicator and the number could rise in coming weeks, or it could reflect the reduced risk of dying associated with higher rates of vaccinations and the use of powerful therapeutics.”

She noted that as of this week, about 2.5% of deaths in the county from all causes were associated with Covid. That’s about half the rate from this time last year, when 5% of all deaths were tied to Covid. But it’s up from the past two weeks, when only about 1% of overall deaths were attributable to Covid.

“It is possible that this could be an early indicator that maybe we’re going to see some increased numbers of deaths, yet with only one week of data it’s too early to determine if this is a trend,” she said. “As a reminder, during the peak of the surge last summer, it was 7% of the deaths were associated with Covid.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

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