With daily COVID-19 infection numbers continuing to surpass 20,000, Los Angeles County modified its public health order Wednesday, requiring employers to provide upgraded masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.
The order, which will take effect Jan. 17, requires employers to provide affected workers with “well-fitting medical grade masks, surgical masks, or higher-level respirators, such as N95 or KN95 masks.”
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.
“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.”
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 changes come amid a surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus. The county on Wednesday reported another 26,754 cases, lifting the cumulative pandemic total to 1,806,828.
Another 27 COVID deaths were also reported, giving the county an overall death toll of 27,698.
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.
According to state figures, there were 2,461 COVID-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals as of Wednesday, up from 2,240 on Tuesday. The number of those patients in intensive care was 330, up from 303 a day earlier.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Wednesday the state is working with hospitals to get a better understanding of how many COVID-positive patients were admitted to hospitals because they were sick from the virus, and how many were only diagnosed after being admitted for other reasons.
Dr. Christina Ghaly Los Angeles County’s health services director and the wife of Mark Ghaly, told the Los Angeles Times this week that about two-thirds of the COVID-positive patients at the four county-operated hospitals were admitted for something other than COVID.
Mark Ghaly said regardless of the way in which COVID patients were detected, the overall hospitalization numbers in the state remain concerning. The total number of patients in the state — both COVID and non-COVID — was about 51,000 as of Wednesday morning, rivaling the 53,000 peak seen during last winter’s surge.
In Los Angeles 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.