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Los Angeles County on Thursday moved from a medium community spread of COVID-19 to a “high” level, triggering the possible return of universal indoor masking in the region.

If the county remains in the high community level for two consecutive weeks, through July 28, the masking mandate would return the following day, “to help slow the rate of transmission and protect those most vulnerable,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The region is starting to see an increase in COVID-related deaths for the first time since the winter coronavirus surge, Ferrer said. There have been an average of 14 deaths per day over past week, she detailed.

And based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus community levels, the county entered the “high” section based on the number of new cases and hospitalizations in the region: The seven-day case rate has increased to 370 cases per week per 100,000 people, Ferrer said.

As for the seven-day total on hospitalizations, the county is at 10.5 admissions per 100,000 people, representing an 88% increase since this time last month Ferrer said.

The presence of new, highly transmissible variants is contributing to the spread of the virus, particularly at work sites and nursing homes in the region, Ferrer said.

She explained that masking leads to controlling the amount of virus that enters the environment.

“When everyone in the room is masked, safety is enhanced, as there’s less virus circulating,” Ferrer said.

Currently, masking indoors is required for everyone over 2 years old at the following locations:

  • Health care settings
  • Public transit and transportation hubs
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Shelters and cooling centers
  • Correctional facilities
  • When required by a business or employer
  • Outbreaks at worksites
  • During the 10 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure

If the universal indoor mask mandate returns, facial coverings will be required at the following spaces:

  • Shared office
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Indoor events
  • Indoor areas at restaurants and bars
  • Indoor areas at children’s programs
  • Indoor areas in educational settings including early childhood care, summer school, higher education

Click here for more information on masking in L.A. County.

“For many this will feel like a step backwards,” Ferrer said. “The reality is, because we’re living with a mutating SARS-CoV2 virus, there remains uncertainty around the trajectory of this pandemic.”

One local emergency room doctor advised the public to pay attention to the alarming trend in cases, and that everyone should mask up now — especially in crowded spaces or inside businesses — rather than wait for another mandate.

“From my opinion, taking one step back in order to take three or four steps forward is a win and it shouldn’t be looked at as a negative thing,” Dr. Ali Jamiehdor, medical director of the emergency department at Dignity Health St. Mary, said.

The public health department also continues to encourage getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, testing if exposed, and testing before gatherings.

On Thursday, the county reported 8,535 new cases and 14 new deaths. Additionally, 1,202 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.