Masking policies in LA County could start to ease soon

Transmission of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County continues to fall, with the public health director saying Tuesday the plummeting rate will likely lead to a further loosening of the county's indoor masking recommendation.

Barbara Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the county averaged roughly 1,700 new COVID infections per day over the past week, a roughly 21% drop from 2,100 per day the previous week. The county's current weekly rate of new COVID infections was 127 per 100,000 residents as of Tuesday.

According to Ferrer, when that rate falls below 100 per 100,000 residents, which could happen within days, the county will change its recommendation for indoor mask-wearing. Masks are currently "strongly recommended" in most indoor settings, but when the county's weekly case rate falls below 100 per 100,000 residents, masking will become a matter of "individual preference."

She noted that masking will still be mandatory in places where it is specifically required, including healthcare facilities, in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, aboard public transit and in businesses that choose to mandate them. Mask-wearing will also continue to be required indoors for 10 days -- including at schools -- for people who have been exposed to the virus.

SUGGESTED: More superintendents oppose LA County masking policies

That requirement in schools has generated vocal opposition from some local school district superintendents, who have urged the county to remove the rule for students and staff who may have been exposed but are not showing any symptoms.

Despite that lobbying, the rule remains in place, although Ferrer said Tuesday the county has taken steps allowing parents to obtain exemptions through their health-care providers.

She conceded that the countywide falling transmission rate is an indication that "the risk of getting infected or infecting others is reduced." But she said people who are exposed to or infected with the virus still present a risk of transmitting the virus to others.

SUGGESTED: LA County drops to 'low' COVID-19 activity level

The county on Tuesday reported 1,601 new COVID-19 infections, raising the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,431,991. Another 13 deaths were also reported, giving the county an overall virus-related death toll of 33,398.

According to state figures, there were 735 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Tuesday, down from 771 on Saturday. Of those patients, 83 were being treated in intensive care units, down from 106 on Saturday.

County officials have said about 43% of patients with COVID were actually hospitalized due to virus-related illness, while the rest were admitted for other reasons, with some only learning they were infected when they were tested upon admission.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 5.6% as of Tuesday, roughly the same rate as the past week.