“This is an all hands on deck moment,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis. “We’re seeing the rates go up too high. We all need to do our part to try and prevent the need to do something else.”
In light of those factors, Davis announced on Thursday that the county was again issuing a health officer order requiring all residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces. The order will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. this Saturday.
He said the order, which he himself is responsible for signing, “will be similar” to masking requirements the county had in place before its June 15 reopening. Sacramento-area health officials announced a similar order earlier in the day.
Asked if there is potential for further restrictions Davis said, “Everything is on the table if things continue to get worse. The next level is ‘High Transmission,’ and that’s not a place that we want be. We can’t wait for this to go higher before we act.”
The Health Officer walked through L.A.’s most recent numbers and noted that the county’s case rate per 100,000 people is now 7.1. That puts the region in the “Substantial” category of spread, according to the CDC. (It’s worth noting that 7.1 would also put L.A. in the same category of Governor Gavin Newsom’s onetime Blueprint for a Safer Economy tiers, which ended on June 15.)
The mandate means all customers will again be required to mask up when entering any indoor public establishment, including retail shops, grocery stores, restaurants and workplaces. Davis said indoor dining will remain open, but customers will have to remain masked while they are not eating or drinking.
The more transmissible Delta variant is now 71% of all sequences in L.A. County, said Davis. Given that, the fact that slightly under 4 million of L.A.’s residents remain completely unvaccinated makes the potential for spread high.
While 61% of county residents over 16 are vaccinated, 13% of the county’s population is under 12 and so not eligible for inoculation. In fact, when the county’s entire 10 million residents are included, only about 51% of them have been fully vaccinated. (Health officials say herd immunity requires that 70-85% of a population be vaccinated.) Thus, as the unvaccinated in L.A. tend to be much younger, more young people are getting sick than before.
“We’re seeing cases in children and younger adults rising,” Davis warned, before noting that adults getting vaccinated helps protect unvaccinated children who live with them.
In fact, the 7-day case rate per 100,000 is rising most rapidly among L.A. residents between the ages of 18 and 29, which means they are likely driving the surge. See the green line on the graph below which charts those rates from June-July.
The county recorded 1,537 new cases on Thursday. That’s the highest daily number since early March and up from 1,315 on Wednesday and 1,103 on Tuesday. Those rising numbers are being identified even as testing has dropped precipitously.
Thursday was the seventh consecutive day cases topped 1,000. For perspective, one month ago the 5-day average of cases was 201. On Tuesday, the 5-day average was 1,095; this is an increase of more than 500% in just one month.
A more reliable number, the 7-day average test positivity rate, had increased nearly 700% from the 0.5% seen a month ago to Tuesday’s 3.4%. On Sunday it was 2.4%, so it rose over 40% in 48 hours alone. On Thursday, test positivity reached 3.75%.
The number of people hospitalized in the county due to Covid topped 400 for the first time since early May on Thursday. That number has been climbing steadily for the past three weeks, and is now double the count reported when Covid health restrictions were lifted statewide on June 15.
Asked how long the order might stay in place, Davis emphasized that the spread of infections has the county nowhere near a return to normal.
“This is not the same situation as June 15,” he said. “We were at a low level when we reopened. This is a very different situation from where we were when restrictions were lifted.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
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