Would LA County bring back mask mandate if cases continue to climb?

After weeks of climbing case numbers, Los Angeles County has moved from “low” to “medium” COVID-19 risk level under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention community rating system.

LA County had just entered the “low” risk category in March, triggering a relaxation of indoor masking rules countywide.

On Thursday, LA County became the only Southern California county to move into the CDC’s “medium” risk level.

LA County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the move is “concerning” because it could mean that the infection increases may soon put pressure on our healthcare resources.

With the shift to “medium,” no new COVID-19 restrictions were announced for the general public.

However, with infections on the rise and hospitalization numbers also now beginning to climb, what would happen if LA County finds itself in the “high” risk category again?

“Once we are designated a high community level, we will go back to requiring that everybody put on those masks indoors,” Ferrer said.

So what does it mean for residents now?

“In order to avoid moving to the ‘high’ community level, which means a very high transmission and stress on the healthcare system, residents, workers and businesses need to not shy away from reinstating or adhering to safety practices that are known to reduce transmission ,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer asked residents to get vaccinated and boosted, get tested before traveling and gathering indoors, stay home when sick and consider masking up in indoor public settings, including at schools, restaurants and movie theaters.

Currently in LA County, masks are required — regardless of vaccination status — for everyone on public transit, at emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional detention facilities, homeless shelters and long term care facilities.

Masks remain strongly recommended — but not required — for everyone aged 2 and older at indoor settings.

“We’re not at ‘high.’ We’re not suggesting that people avoid gatherings, but we are suggesting that people gather with a lot of safety layered in,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said the county is likely to soon extend masking requirements for public transit.

“It would really be at this point foolhardy to not extend those protections,” Ferrer said.

“We need to do everything we can to stay out of ‘high,’ I’m just going to be honest,” Ferrer said. “Nobody here wants to see us move to any categorization that could possibly cause stress on our health care system.”

The CDC’s ranking system is meant to help local jurisdictions decide what prevention steps to take based on the three risk levels, which are determined by looking at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area .

Under the ranking system, counties with a weekly case rate over 200 new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days are automatically considered to be at either a medium or high community risk level.

LA County’s weekly case rate hit 202 new cases per 100,000 residents this week, triggering the move to the “medium” category.

The county would move into the “high” category if it records 10 or more new COVID-19 hospital admissions weekly for every 100,000 residents or if at least 10% of its staffed hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients in one week, according to CDC.

The county is not alone in experiencing a “worrisome” increase in transmission, Ferrer said.

Many counties have been moved into the medium and high community transmission levels, especially on the east coast.