With daily Covid cases up 52% since early November, Los Angeles County today went back to “strongly recommending” that people wear masks in all indoor public settings.
The recommendation does not fulfill any mandate, but masks are still required indoors in healthcare facilities and community health facilities, for anyone exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and in locations where they are required by the operator, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said.
On Wednesday, the province reported another 2,215 infections. Today there were 1,949. The seven-day average daily number 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 a 52% increase since Nov. 1. He noted that the reported cases represent only a fraction of the actual infections. occurring in the county as many residents rely on home tests not reported to health officials, while many more are not tested at all.
Of concern is the rapid emergence of two new variants, BQ1 & BQ1.1. Last week, one or the other was detected in 17% of all infections analyzed in LA. This week, that combined percentage stands at 26%.
According to the CDC, BQ1 and BQ1.1 now total 44% of samples analyzed in the California, Nevada and Arizona region.
In recent months, indoor masking has been a matter of personal preference unless individual companies or venues chose to require it. The county switched back to “strongly recommend” wearing an indoor mask on Thursday, as 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 last week was 65 per 100,000 residents.
“Now it is highly recommended that all persons wear a high quality mask that fits well in the following environments: in public indoor areas; when using public transportation, including buses, ride-shares, taxis, and medical care
transport; correctional and detention facilities; and homeless and emergency shelters,” Davis said.
The rising number of cases reflected steady increases in daily reported cases and hospitalizations since early November.
Average daily Covid-related hospitalizations average 97 per day, up 26% from 77 per day last week, and up 54% since Nov. 1.
As of Thursday, the number of Covid-positive patients in provincial hospitals has risen to 648, up from 589 the day before. Of those patients, 77 were treated in intensive care, compared to 75 the day before.
Health officials have previously said about 40% of patients were actually admitted due to 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, about eight a day, but Davis said that with the rise in cases and hospitalizations, that number could rise.
Health officials have warned of a third consecutive winter wave of Covid cases, noting that the risk of transmission is higher as people spend more time indoors due to the colder weather and winter holidays. Davis also pointed Thursday to the lingering threat of new variants that can spread more quickly from person to person, even those who have been vaccinated.
A recent Harvard University study of Massachusetts school districts following the lifting of mask mandates on campuses found that districts that lifted mask mandates had a COVID infection rate of 128 per 1,000 people, while those with masks had a rate of 66 per 1,000.
Another nine virus-related deaths were reported on Wednesday.
City News Service contributed to this report.