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Indoor Mask Mandate Could Return, Health Officials Warn

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By Jorge Casuso

December 7, 2022 -- Coronavirus cases continued rising in Santa Monica, reflecting a Countywide trend that has prompted warnings from Public Health officials that indoor mask mandates could soon return.

There were 189 new COVID-19 cases confirmed last week in Santa Monica, which has a population of some 93,000, closely mirroring the 188 cases per 100,00 residents in the county.

If the trend continues, coronavirus cases could top 200 per week for every 100,000 residents, the threshold for imposing a mandatory mask mandate for indoor public settings.

However, to trigger the mandate, at least 10 percent of the County's hospital beds would need to be occupied by patients with the coronavirus.

That percentage has jumped from 2 percent to 5.6 percent over the past month, according to County officials.

“While there still is uncertainty about what the impact of COVID-19 will be this winter, there is mounting evidence that we are entering another COVID-19 surge," County Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned last week.

The increase would come amid "emerging new strains we know less about, along with unusually high flu and RSV activity," Ferrer said.

RSV -- Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is a common respiratory virus that causes mild, cold-like symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

If County health officials reimpose mask mandates, it is unclear how many residents and businesses will comply or how strong the pushback will be.

Unlike earlier mandates, which came amid a surge in COVID-related deaths, the current strains of Omicron may be more contagious, but they are far less serious and deadly.

COVID-related deaths in LA County, which has a population of more than 10 million, continue to remain at around 60 per week, with the vast majority occurring among seniors with underlying medical conditions.

In July, County officials threatened to impose indoor mask mandates but didn't follow through, citing a decline in cases.

At the time, the LA Times reported that "as the potential implementation date drew closer, the concept became the subject of increasingly intense criticism."

That criticism came from "residents, who questioned its necessity and efficacy; from business groups that wondered how it would affect the local economy; and from some elected officials, who expressed concerns about eroding the public’s trust and sparking further pushback," the Times wrote.

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