LA County COVID hospitalizations on the decline again, mask mandate still looming

The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals fell significantly for the second straight day, falling by 47 people to as many as 1,200, according to the latest state figures.

The number of patients hospitalized Saturday and being treated in intensive care was 114, down from 120 on Friday.

The number of COVID-positive patients nationwide fell by 85 to 4,626.

The latest figures come a day after local health officials reported 8,091 new infections and 20 additional deaths linked to the virus, bringing the county’s total to 3,253,323 cases and 32,604 deaths since the pandemic began.

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health, which doesn’t report COVID data on weekends, the daily count of cases announced by the county is believed to be too low because many people rely on at-home testing, the results of which aren’t always reported .

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 15.7% on Friday.

Los Angeles County moved into the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “high” level of COVID-19 community activity earlier this month when the average daily rate of virus-related hospitalizations rose to 10.5 per 100,000 residents, crossing the threshold of 10 exceeded per 100,000. On Thursday, Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said the admissions rate rose to 11.4 per 100,000 over the past week.

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Without a significant reduction in hospital numbers over the next week, the county will likely still be in the high category on July 28, triggering a new indoor mask mandate beginning July 29.

Though dozens of counties in California also fall into the “high” virus activity category, Los Angeles is the only one considering mask requirements. Ferrer again defended the move Thursday, saying the virus continues to disproportionately affect blacks, Latinos and low-income residents, causing serious illness in some patients. She said wearing a mask is a simple and effective way to curb transmission.

Acknowledging there is no formalized enforcement plan, she said the county is primarily relying on education in hopes of convincing people to wear face coverings. She also said the county does not expect business owners to become law enforcement officers.

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“We rely heavily on people to understand why it’s important for us to add this layer of protection at this time, and most people have historically gone ahead and complied with that,” she said. “We will continue to work with everyone and make sure there is good information.”

She found that very few companies were reported for violations in previous mandates.

If a new mask requirement goes into effect, it will remain in place until the county falls back into the “moderate” virus activity category for two weeks.

Masks are already mandatory in some indoor settings—healthcare facilities, transit hubs, transit vehicles, airports, correctional facilities, and emergency shelters. A universal mandate would extend the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared office spaces, manufacturing facilities, retail outlets, indoor events, indoor restaurants and bars, and schools.

“What we’ve learned over the course of the pandemic is that this is a dangerous virus,” Ferrer said in a statement Friday. “We benefit enormously from all the effective tools at our disposal and they allow most of us to live our lives to the fullest: we travel, we party, we enjoy concerts, plays and sporting events and we meet us with those we love. However, when transmission is very high, we would be foolish to be complacent and not build in additional safeguards to help the most vulnerable live their lives to the fullest, too.”

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