COVID-19-spurred mask mandates continue to ease in Los Angeles County as health officials announced on Thursday, Sept. 22, that face coverings will no longer be mandatory on buses, trains and other mass transit vehicles — as well as at travel hubs such as train and bus stations and airports — starting Friday.
The decision to wear face coverings will also be optional at cooling centers, correctional facilities and homeless shelters while indoors, as the county aligns with the new state guidance announced on Tuesday, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a livecast health briefing on Thursday.
Wearing masks to fend off the coronavirus is still “strongly recommended” in such settings, Ferrer said, but it will no longer be required.
The county will also lower its general indoor masking guidance from “strongly recommended” to “individual preference.”
This decision was based on the weekly case rate that has determined L.A. County to be in the “low” community COVID transmission level, according to CDC guidelines. In the past week, the rate has dropped steadily from 117 new cases to 98 new cases per 100,000 people on Thursday.
The weekly case rate’s slide to below 100 new cases per 100,000 people triggered changes to county policies, Ferrer said. And she expects the number to stay below 100.
“When we are in a low or medium community level, the indoor masking guidance of public transit will depend on the amount of virus circulating the community as measured by the weekly case rate,” said Ferrer, “if the case rate is below 100 as it is now, indoor masking will be strongly recommended.”
Masks, meanwhile, will continue to be required at healthcare and long-term care facilities.
Individual businesses and venues will also be permitted to require masks indoors if they choose to do so. People considered at higher risk of infection or severe illness should also consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor public places, officials said.
The county continues to experience downward trends in COVID infections and hospitalizations this week.
During the past week, an average of 1,400 cases have been reported per day, a decrease from 1,700 cases reported per day last week, according to health officials.
The county Department of Public Health reported another 1,666 COVID infections on Thursday, lifting the cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 3,444,630. The case numbers officially reported by the county are also believed to be low due to the popularity of at-home tests, the results of which are generally not relayed to the county.
Another 12 COVID-related deaths were also reported Thursday, giving the county an overall death toll of 33,519.
On Thursday, the number of COVID-positive patients in L.A. County hospitals fell to 551, down from 573 on Wednesday, according to state figures. Of those patients, 77 were being treated in intensive care units, down from 83 on Wednesday.
The CDC reported the county’s rate of 7-day average hospital admission per 100,000 decreased to 6.5 weekly hospital admissions compared to eight last week.
A slight decline in the 7-day average for inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients is now about 4% — compared to 4.3% reported last week.
The chief medical officer and director, Rita Singhal, also gave an update on the monkeypox outbreak in the county at the weekly COVID briefing.
As of Thursday, 1,937 cases in the county have been accounted for, in addition to the 106 cases reported in Long Beach. Due to the timeline of cases being diagnosed and reported to the department, data for recent weeks are incomplete.
The 7-day average of reported cases has declined from 40 daily cases at the monkeypox peak on Aug. 20 to 15 daily cases on Sept. 8.
“We are hopeful that this decline represents an ongoing slowing of monkeypox transmission and a decrease of the growth of monkeypox in LA county,” Singhal said.
City News Service contributed to this report
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