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With Covid transmissions declining, LA won’t revive mask mandate just yet

Angelenos won a last-minute reprieve from a return to mandatory masking, thanks to a decline in Covid transmissions and hospitalizations.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday the county won't be reinstating its universal mask mandate after all, citing a recent drop in both Covid transmissions and hospital admissions related to Covid.

"It would be welcome relief if this surge is peaked," said Ferrer, noting a "fairly steady decline in cases since July 23," and that it would be "reasonable to assume the decline in cases will lead to fewer hospitalizations."

The health department still "strongly advises" everyone to wear masks in public indoor settings.

LA County currently has a policy where it automatically implements an indoor mask mandate, in which businesses are required to tell customers to wear a mask or leave, if the "community level" of Covid as designated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remains at "high" for two weeks in a row.

The county was expected to cross that threshold on Friday; and in fact, it will cross that threshold, based on the average number of hospital admissions due to Covid. But that's only based on the CDC's data, which lags behind that of LA County by two days. Health officials decided to use LA County's own, more up-to-date data to determine that the county is likely moving out of the "high" level and into "medium."

This tactic was both an instance of common sense — the Covid surge appears to be receding in LA County, by a variety of metrics — and an instance of backing off a policy in the face of criticism. In an open letter to the public earlier this week, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger urged officials to forgo a masking requirement. "I have not seen any empirical data that conclusively shows that masking mandates make a difference in decreasing or stopping Covid-19 transmission rates," she wrote. And officials for the city of Beverly Hills said they would not allocate resources to enforce the county's masking rule.

When asked if the county's reversal was done to ward off criticism, Ferrer was adamant: "We made our decision based on the data."

Indeed, the numbers for LA County look promising. The average daily Covid case rate, which last week had plateaued, is starting to decrease. Hospital admissions due to Covid are down. And although the average number of deaths due to Covid rose slightly this week, that metric typically lags behind the others by weeks.

"The most disheartening misinformation being circulated is that no one dies from Covid now," said Ferrer, noting that on average, 15 people die from Covid each day in LA County.

Perhaps the most accurate measure of Covid transmission is the level of Covid concentration found in wastewater plants. That number has also started to drop recently.

"All the trends are moving in the same direction," said Ferrer. "We’re feeling pretty confident that we should be in that medium community level next Thursday."

Ferrer hinted that LA health officials would be reexamining the policy of automatically moving to a mask mandate based on the CDC's framework.

"I don’t want to say definitively we are reconsidering how we use the framework," she said, "but we're adapting how we use the framework."

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