Hospitalizations have risen by 88 percent in the past month, driven by the pandemic's most contagious variant. 

The Los Angeles County of Public Health recently revealed that mandatory indoor mask mandates may return to curb soaring caseloads and transmission. 

The area has seen an 88 percent increase in hospitalizations compared to June, placing it in the “High” range of the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level Matrix—a tool used to assess the level of risk in a county. If Los Angeles County, the biggest county in the U.S. in terms of population, remains at this pace for two straight weeks, mask requirements will return July 29. 

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said while indoor masking may seem unnecessary because of vaccines and therapeutics, the latest version of COVID paints an unpredictable future. She added that the best way to reduce deaths is to combine tools (tests, vaccines, and medicine) with non-pharmaceutical methods like masking, ventilation, and social distancing. The health department listed N95s, KN95s, and KN94s as masks that offer the best protection. 

On Friday, Los Angeles County reported 8,954 new cases, 1,223 hospitalizations, and a seven-day average positivity rate of 16.3 percent. For perspective, on June 15, there were 3,310 new cases, 579 hospitalizations, and a positivity rate of 7.5 percent. 

“One thing I feel certain about is that, given the rich toolkit at hand, we should not settle for the existing high rates of morbidity and mortality that disproportionately affect those most vulnerable; we do need to continue to take care of each other,” Ferrer said in a statement. “With the high rates of transmission fueling the increased risks, sensible safety precautions that can slow down the spread of the virus are warranted and that includes universal indoor masking.”

Dr. Eric Topol, cardiologist and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said COVID variant BA.5 is the “worst version of the virus that we’ve seen,” and that its transmissibility is “well beyond” previous iterations of the Omicron family. Meaning, the virus is able to easily skirt around immunity provided by vaccines and previous infection. On Sunday, the seven-day moving average for cases in the U.S. was 122,639, according to CDC data. From July 3 to 9, the BA.5 strain accounted for 65 percent of cases. 

King County, home of Seattle, could also see the return of indoor mask mandates. Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, King County’s public health officer, said the area is seeing more cases now than it did during the Delta spike, according to a report from KOMO News. The official recently said during a press briefing that “we are in active discussions about if and when to consider re-issuing a mask mandate.”

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