July 10, 2022 -- Public health officials in California are urging caution and considering a potential return to indoor mask mandates as COVID-19 cases rise due to the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, according to CBS News.

Across the state, 35 of California’s 58 counties have reached the CDC’s “high risk” COVID-19 threshold of 10 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents. On Saturday, Los Angeles public health officials said the county will likely move into that category on July 14.

If Los Angeles County stays in the high category for 14 days, the county will reimpose a mask mandate in public places on July 29.

“Universal indoor masking would be implemented across L.A. County,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s public health department, said during a news briefing.

Daily hospitalizations in Los Angeles County have reached the highest levels since late February, and daily deaths have reached the highest totals since March 30.

“We all now face a higher risk of getting COVID because there are more people infected with the virus who can transmit to others when we gather, go shopping or attend events,” Ferrer said. “Essential workers, especially those that work directly with the public, also now have more exposures to the virus during their workday.”

California’s current seven-day test positivity rate is 16.9%, climbing to the highest rate since the peak was about 21% during the first Omicron wave, according to Deadline. BA.4 and BA.5 continue to drive high numbers of cases, including reinfections, since they’re better able to escape the protection provided by previous infections and vaccines.

BA.4 and BA.5 now make up 70% of new cases in the U.S. and 68% of new cases in the region that includes California, Arizona, and Nevada, according to the latest CDC data. The subvariants appear to be three to four times more resistant to antibodies than previous strains, CBS News reported.

California is leading the nation with more than 17,000 new daily cases, according to the data tracker by The New York Times. Texas is reporting more than 10,000 new cases per day, followed by Florida with more than 9,000 daily cases, and New York with about 6,000 daily cases.

Health officials are also concerned about other major metrics, Deadline reported, with hospitalizations, intensive care unit bed use and daily deaths climbing as well. California is leading the U.S. with more than 4,000 hospitalizations, which has increased 27% in the last two weeks, the data tracker shows. The state is also reporting about 36 deaths per day, just behind Florida with 43 deaths per day. Los Angeles County is reporting about half of California’s daily deaths.

Officials in other major counties in California are expressing concerns as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rise. In Riverside County, located east of Los Angeles County and home to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, cases and hospitalizations have been increasing since the July 4 holiday.

“We have seen a spike in the number of COVID cases exactly right after a holiday or a get-together session, like for example, a music festival,” Nasrollah Ahmadpour, MD, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, told KESQ.

Cases and hospitalizations are also on the rise in San Diego County, with about 10,000 new infections per week, according to San Diego’s County News Center. Public health officials noted the difficulty in tracking new cases because they can’t include positive results from at-home antigen tests that people don’t report to official sources.

Hospitalizations for COVID-related illness have increased 66% during the past month in San Diego County, with new ICU admissions up 68% as well.

“Due to the increased level of community transmission, including reinfections, we strongly recommend masking, especially in crowded spaces or around family, friends and colleagues who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19,” Cameron Kaiser, MD, the county’s deputy public health officer, said in a statement.

“Our best bet in preventing hospitalizations and deaths is to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, and isolating from others when sick,” Kaiser said.

Show Sources

CBS News: “Los Angeles could reinstate mask mandates as COVID cases rise.”

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: “LA County Community Level Metrics Continue to Increase as Daily Hospitalizations Reach Highest Number Since Late February.”

Deadline: “California’s Covid Test Positivity Nearing Record Levels & Still Rising Due to BA.5.”

CDC: “COVID Data Tracker: Variant Proportions.”

The New York Times: “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.”

KESQ: “Covid-19 cases rise, doctors send new warning.”

County News Center: “County Calls for Vigilance as COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations Increase.”

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