Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Alyssa Erdley
Observer Staff 

No Indoor Mask Mandate, Says Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, Pointing to Declining Hospital Admissions

In order to justify not instituting a mask mandate, Ferrer had to use more recent data from the county rather than rely on CDC data regarding hospital admissions

 

August 3, 2022

Screenshot

Barbara Ferrer wearing a mask in her office because a tech advisor is in the room with her and her department has a mask requirement

July 28, 2022 - There will be no reinstitution of an indoor mask mandate in public spaces, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced today in a media briefing. She had announced two weeks ago that if the number of Covid-related hospitalizations remained above a certain level for two weeks in a row, she would issue a Health Order requiring masks be worn in all public indoor spaces. But she said that a recent decline in hospital admissions was bringing the county out of what the Centers for Disease Control would call High Community Level and the threatened mask mandate was not necessary. Ferrer used data from her own health department to make the recommendation rather than rely, as she has previously, on data given her from the CDC.

If the county has more than 10 Covid-19-positive patient hospital admissions per 100,000 people in a week for two weeks in a row, then the county would move from its current Medium to a High Community Level, according to the CDC. Two weeks ago, the county had 10.5 admissions per 100,000 residents per week. Last week, there were 11.4. This week, the number would have been 11.5 if Ferrer had relied on data from the CDC, which has a two-day lag. Instead, she used her own department's data that has only a one-day lag and came up with 9.7 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents.

At the media briefing, Ferrer showed multiple graphs of case numbers, hospital admissions, and wastewater samples to justify claiming that the region is on a downward trend regarding transmission.

"Any indication we're moving to a Medium Level is a good reason not to move forward with indoor masking," she said. Adding "There will be no health order today."

When asked if the two-week clock had been reset or simply paused regarding the two-week level of hospitalizations, Ferrer evaded a direct answer. "We're always looking at the utility of the frameworks we use." She said the health department has changed frameworks numerous times in recognition of the changing nature of the pandemic.

She added that she was also considering the criticism that the county is counting all Covid-positive hospital patients when creating the data point and currently only 43% of patients in the hospital who are Covid-positive are actually suffering from Covid-related disease. However, previously, Ferrer has stated that the hospital metric is designed to measure stress on the health care system, and the only significant factor to consider is whether the patient tested positive for Covid, not whether or not they are suffering from Covid. Covid-positive patients require hospitals to take additional safety protection measures and that puts stress on the health care system, Ferrer has repeatedly stated in media briefings.

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The statistics on which Ferrer rationalized not reinstituting an indoor mask requirement

Ferrer has been under intense pressure not to force LA County residents back into masks. On Tuesday, two of the county's Board of Supervisors demanded she not reinstitute the mask mandate. Ferrer's position as health director is not an elected office; rather she serves at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors.

When asked by Fox 11 News how much public pressure was involved in her decision not to reinstitute a mask mandate, Ferrer claimed that her decision was based on the data. "Numbers don't lie," she said and added she felt confident that community transmission of Covid-19 was decreasing as were hospitalizations. She did not want to impose a mask mandate only to see the numbers go down and then she'd be constrained to lift it again, "moving people back and forth." She said it was "sensible" not to go ahead with indoor masking.

When asked aggressively by another Fox 11 reporter what percent of her decision was based on public reaction, Ferrer curtly said, "We made our decision based on the data," and abruptly ended the briefing 12 minutes early.

 

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