First published in the July 8 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
South Pasadena residents may soon need to be reacquainted with carrying a face mask when leaving home as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge throughout Los Angeles County to levels that could trigger a universal mask mandate.
Transmission had been increasing prior to the July 4 holiday and is expected to continue spiking due to a pair of highly contagious Omicron subvariants known as BA.4 and BA.5.
The L.A. County Department of Public Health reported Tuesday that 886 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus — a sharp increase from the 664 hospitalizations reported two weeks prior.
South Pasadena had 434 COVID-19 cases between June 7 and July 5 and averaged about 15 new cases per day.
“We’re really worried in particular because our case numbers are staying pretty high,” Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Public Health director, said in a virtual press briefing last week. “We now have more BA.4 and BA.5 circulating. The bad news is that they’re more infectious. … Sadly, it could lead to even more transmission.”
As of Tuesday, two-thirds of California’s counties were considered high COVID-19 community levels by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends universal masking in indoor spaces when transmission levels are considered high.
Ferrer said a revised health order is looking more and more likely as COVID-19 numbers are expected to rise due to holiday gatherings last weekend.
“There’s no certainty on this, but with the continued increase in cases and now as you’re seeing the corresponding increase in hospitalizations, it gets more and more likely,” Ferrer, who noted that such trends are difficult to predict and that public health officials will need to monitor the metrics involving hospitalizations and cases related to the subvariants. “We’ve moved up quite a bit — a lot more than we had anticipated, to be honest. So, it’s a little worrisome.”
The county relies on the metric of hospital admission rate per 100,000 people over seven days to determine the transmission level. Ferrer said the COVID-19 hospitalization rate last week was 8.1 per 100,000 people, which is still below the high community transmission level of 10 or more per 100,000 people. However, public health officials expect L.A. County to surpass the threshold as early as July 19.
“This projection is based on the rate of increase in hospital admissions over the past two weeks, and of course it’s accelerated in recent days, which is why that date of potentially moving into high is a little bit earlier than we had anticipated last week, even earlier this week,” Ferrer said.
A universal mask mandate requiring everyone aged 2 and older to mask up indoors when in public would be triggered should the county’s coronavirus transmission rate be high — according to the CDC’s standards — for two consecutive weeks. The mandate would remain in effect until the county moves away from the CDC’s high COVID-19 community level and remains in the medium or low category for two weeks.
“CDC is basing their safety precaution and requiring indoor masking there because at the point that you get into that high community level as defined by CDC, your health care system is more vulnerable,” Ferrer said. “And we’re already seeing that in the emergency departments and the urgent care centers. We have a lot of concerns being expressed by providers working there.”
Local public health officials urge residents to take precautions such as wearing masks when indoors in public, washing hands often and getting vaccinated.
The federal government is doing its part to combat the rise in cases due to the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. Last month, the CDC endorsed a pediatric vaccine for children 6 months through 5 years of age, and the Food and Drug Administration recently advised COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers to update their formulas of booster shots to target the highly contagious Omicron subvariants.
Ferrer said vaccinating children is important in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
“Although most children experience mild illness from COVID-19, they can still potentially become seriously ill and spread the virus to other family members, making it critically important to vaccinate all eligible household members,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “This is especially important for our elderly relatives and immunocompromised in our families who are at high risk.”