The recommendation falls short of a mandate, but masks are still required indoors at health-care and congregate-care facilities, for anyone exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and at locations where they are required by the operator, county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said.
On Wednesday, the county reported another 2,215 infections. Today, it was 1,949. The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 6.8%, up from 5.6% a week ago.
Davis said the county is currently reporting a 7-day average of about 1,500 new cases per day, up from 1,300 per day a week ago and up 52% since Nov. 1. He noted that the reported cases only represent a portion of actual infections occurring in the county, since many residents rely on at-home tests that are not reported to health officials, while many more don’t get tested at all.
Of concern is the rapid rise of two new variants, BQ1 & BQ1.1. Last week, one or the other was detected in 17% of all infections analyzed in L.A. This week, that combined percentage stands at 26%.
Per the CDC, BQ1 & BQ1.1 now total 44% of specimens analyzed in the region comprised of California, Nevada and Arizona.
For the past few months, indoor masking has been a matter of personal preference, unless individual businesses or locations chose to require them. The county shifted back to “strongly recommending” indoor mask wearing on Thursday when the local seven-day average of daily new infections rose to 100 per 100,000 residents, up from 86 per 100,000 a week ago. The rate the previous week was 65 per 100,000 residents.
“Now it is strongly recommended that all individuals wear a high- quality mask that fits well in the following settings: in public indoor spaces; when using public transit, including buses, ride-shares, taxis and medical
transport; correctional and detention facilities; and homeless and emergency shelters,” said Davis.
The increasing case rate mirrored steady rises seen in daily reported case numbers and hospitalizations since the beginning of November.
Average daily Covid-related hospital admissions are averaging 97 per day, up 26% from 77 per day last week, and a 54% jump since Nov. 1.
As of Thursday, the number of Covid-positive patients in county hospitals rose to 648, up from 589 the previous day. Of those patients, 77 were being treated in intensive care, up from 75 a day earlier.
Health officials have said previously that roughly 40% of the patients were actually admitted for Covid-related issues, while the rest were admitted for other reasons but tested positive at the hospital.
Daily reported virus-related deaths remain relatively low, at about eight per day, but Davis said with the increases in case rates and hospitalizations, that number could begin to climb.
Health officials have been warning of a third straight winter surge of Covid cases, noting the increased risk of transmission as people spend more time indoors due to colder weather and the winter holidays. Davis on Thursday also noted the continued threat of new variants emerging that can spread more rapidly from person to person, even those who are vaccinated.
A recent Harvard University study of Massachusetts school districts following the lifting of mask mandates on campuses found that districts lifting mask mandates had a COVID infection rate of 128 per 1,000 people, while those with masking had a rate of 66 per 1,000.
Another nine virus-related fatalities were reported Wednesday.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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