Los Angeles County may soon reimpose indoor mask mandates as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in the area.
During a press conference Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the largest county in the United States had reached "medium" COVID-19 transmission levels and will require face coverings if it reaches the "high" category.
As of Dec. 1, Los Angeles County is averaging 2,490 new COVID-19 infections every day, the highest number recorded since Aug. 26, according to health department data.
Ferrer said the real count is likely much higher due to several people testing positive with at-home rapid tests and not reporting the results to health officials or due to people not testing at all.
Additionally, there are currently 1,164 residents hospitalized in the county due to the virus, which is the highest number of patients seen since Aug. 11.
Daily deaths are still relatively low at 14, but the figure could rise because COVID-related fatalities tend to lag a few weeks behind case and hospitalization increases, Ferrer noted.
"There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us," she said.
Two weeks ago, county officials said they were "strongly recommending" that residents wear masks in indoor public settings but stopped short of requiring them after the COVID-19 case rate hit 100 per 100,000 residents.
Currently, the weekly rate is 185 per 100,000 and Los Angeles County would likely be considered "high" if it reaches 200 per 100,000.
If cases keep climbing at the same rate, Ferrer said the county will likely reach the "high" category by next week.
According to Ferrer, mask requirements will return if Los Angeles County sees daily average hospital admissions exceed a rate of 10 per 100,000 and if more than 10% of staffed inpatient beds are being occupied by COVID patients. Both are benchmarks set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Given both the increases in hospitalizations and the lack of certainty in the winter trajectory for COVID-19, continuing some common-sense mitigation strategies that we know work to limit transmission and illness, including masking and being up to date on vaccines and boosters, remains a very sensible approach," she said.
Health department data shows 73% of all residents are fully vaccinated but the percentages vary widely by age.
Seniors aged 65 and older have the highest rate with 92% fully vaccinated while children between ages 6 months and 4 years have the lowest rate with just 6% fully vaccinated.