Public health officials tightened up Los Angeles County’s health officer order on Wednesday, Jan.5, to include additional safety measures to reduce transmission as omicron-fueled cases continue to skyrocket, including requiring employers to provide upgraded masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.
The changes were announced as the county posted 26,754 new COVID cases, and 27 new deaths; the new totals raise the number of cases since the pandemic began to 1,806,828 and the county’s death toll to 27,698, according to health officials.
Hospitalizations, meanwhile, rose to 2,461 on Wednesday, an increase of 221 from the previous day, according to the state dashboard; 330 of those patients are in intensive care.
The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 22.4% as of Wednesday. That rate was below 1% a month ago.
The county will require employers to provide employees who work indoors in close contact with others with “well-fitting medical grade masks, surgical masks or higher-level respirators, such as N95 or KN95 masks.” The rule takes effect Jan. 17.
The upgraded mask requirement for county workplaces mirrors an order released late last week by the county for K-12 schools, requiring teachers and staff to wear higher-grade face coverings. USC announced this week it will require all students and staff to wear higher-grade masks when in-person classes resume.
The higher-grade masks are more effective at blocking virus particles, experts say.
The revised order also amended the definition of outdoor “mega events,” where masking is required, to 5,000 or more attendees; and the definition of indoor “mega” events to 500 or more people. The numbers align with those in the state’s health order. The county’s order also “recommends” that food and drink be consumed only in designated dining areas.
Organizations of those events are now responsible for the messaging, signage, and compliance of masking requirements unless spectators or customers are actively eating or drinking.
Also: At the county’s card rooms, food and drinks are prohibited at gaming tables. Masks must always be worn while indoors at card rooms, except for when actively eating or drinking in designated dining areas.
“Given the explosive spread of the virus, activities that put us in close contact with many other people now have an increased risk,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “As such, everyone needs to be sensible about how to protect themselves and those they love by layering on protections whenever around non-household members.
“At work, this means upgrading your mask if you work indoors and you are in contact with other workers or members of the public. At entertainment venues, this means limiting the time you spend without wearing your upgraded mask. And for other activities, this may mean postponing your participation until community transmission is much reduced.”
Meanwhile, California officials announced that the statewide mandate requiring people to wear masks in indoor public settings will remain in place until at least Feb. 15, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary announced today, pointing to rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
The state imposed the mandate on Dec. 15, and it had been scheduled to expire on Jan. 15.
Among the indoor public spaces affected are retail stores, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices that serve the public.
Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters the decision to extend the mandate was the result of rising COVID case numbers, the high transmission rate of the Omicron variant of the virus and the impact of increased infections on hospitals across the state.
Ghaly noted that overall hospitalizations in the state — including COVID and all other patients — had reached 51,000 as of Wednesday morning, just shy of the peak of 53,000 reached during last winter’s virus surge. The current number includes about 8,000 COVID-positive patients, he said.
Ghaly said the state is working to get a better breakdown on the nature of COVID hospital patients to determine how many were admitted for other reasons and only discovered they were infected when they were tested at the hospital.
But regardless of that breakdown, the overall number of hospitalizations remains concerning, he said.
Ghaly also said residents should consider wearing higher-grade masks, not simply scarves or loose-fitting cloth face-coverings. He said many masks that people donned in the early days of the pandemic are “not as helpful today,” urging people to consider masks that are well-fitted on the face without gaps or ventilators.
In L.A. County, COVID hospitalization numbers peaked at about 8,000 during last winter’s surge. Experts have suggested that while the Omicron variant is more infectious, it may lead to less severe illness, at least among people who have been fully vaccinated and received a booster shot.
With less severe illness and the benefit of vaccines, hospital officials have maintained hope that the current surge of cases will not lead to the same pressure on medical centers as last winter.
According to county figures released last week, of the more than 6.3 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 127,172 have tested positive for the virus, for a rate of 2%, while 3,094 have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.05%. A total of 602 fully vaccinated people have died, for a rate of 0.01%.
Overall, 79% of eligible county residents aged 5 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 71% are fully vaccinated. Of the county’s overall population of 10.3 million people, 75% have received at least one dose, and 67% are fully vaccinated.
The lowest vaccination rate is among children aged 5-11 — the most recent age group to become eligible for the shots.
City News Service contributed to this report
Source: Orange County Register