Masks May Return Indoors: L.A. County on verge of indoor mask mandate (from the LA Times): Hyper-contagious BA.5 subvariant fuels rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations. By Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II
Sustained jumps in cases and hospitalizations fueled by the hyper-infectious BA.5 subvariant pushed Los Angeles County into the high COVID-19 community level Thursday, a shift that could trigger a new public indoor mask mandate by the end of this month unless conditions improve.
Health officials have long said the county was inching closer to the metrics for a new mask measure, and those warnings are now closer than ever as the latest COVID-19 wave continues to wash over the region.
Should L.A. County remain in the high COVID-19 community level, which is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the next two Thursdays, a new masking order would be issued with an effective date of July 29.
If L.A. County falls back to the medium level during either of the next two weeks, the clock would reset, pushing the earliest date for any new mask order into August.
However, given continued increases in cases — and the potential for a corresponding rise in hospitalizations over the weeks to come — “at this point, it’s much more likely that we will stay in ‘high’ for these two weeks,” said county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
A renewed mandate would apply indoors for those 2 and older at a familiar host of establishments and venues — including shared office space, manufacturing and retail settings, event spaces, restaurants and bars, gyms and yoga studios, educational settings and children’s programs.
Importantly, though, masks would not be required for those using outdoor spaces, as the risk of transmission in those settings is significantly lower than it is indoors.
Patrons also would be able to take off their masks indoors when actively eating or drinking.
The CDC’s COVID-19 community level is a three-tier measurement of coronavirus transmission and hospital impact. For counties in the worst category on that scale, high, the CDC recommends indoor public masking.
Being in the high community level means L.A. County has observed at least 10 new weekly coronavirus-positive hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents. The latest rate was 10.5 new weekly hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents, according to the county Department of Public Health.
That’s up from a rate of 8.4 the previous week, according to the county. (Last week’s combined rate for L.A. and Orange counties, which was published by the CDC, was 9.7.)
Los Angeles County hasn’t been in the high community level since late February.
As of Wednesday, 1,202 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized countywide — more than double the total recorded a month ago.
And the rate of rise has steepened, with the daily patient census swelling 52% since the end of June. Fueling this renewed stream of hospitalizations is stubbornly high transmission driven by highly infectious Omicron subvariants, chief among them BA.5. Los Angeles County has averaged about 6,400 coronavirus cases a day over the last week — its highest rate since early February.
The number of weekly reported COVID-19 deaths has also doubled over the last month, from 50 to 100.
Officials say BA.5, thought to be the dominant version of the coronavirus circulating nationwide, is not only more contagious than previous versions but also has increased the risk of reinfection — perhaps just weeks after an earlier case.
There are still a number of settings where masking remains mandatory, including healthcare and long-term care facilities, emergency shelters, cooling centers, jails and prisons, and at worksites experiencing a coronavirus outbreak. L.A. County, unlike the state as a whole, also requires face coverings when aboard public transit or in indoor transportation hubs such as airports.
An order from L.A. County would instantly affect 10 million residents, give or take the roughly 600,000 residents of Long Beach and Pasadena. Those two cities have their own public health departments and can decide independently whether to align with the county’s rules.
Local health officials in other parts of the state have not indicated they’re considering a new mask order, and some have said they don’t anticipate implementing new orders more stringent than those required by the state.
L.A. County health officials plan to lift the mask order once the county dips back into the medium COVID-19 community level for two consecutive weeks.
Cases: On Thursday, Pasadena reported an additional 109 new cases. There are no new fatalities. Pasadena has not had a fatality since June 9th.
From the LA Times: County’s COVID fatalities double in a month-By Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II-The number of weekly COVID-19 deaths reported in Los Angeles County has doubled over the last month — the first significant increase in fatalities since the end of the winter surge.
Over the last week, the nation’s most populous county tallied roughly 100 COVID-19 deaths, the highest total in three months. A month ago, the county was reporting about 50 deaths a week.
Although the numbers are still a fraction of the peak in the winter, when there were more than 500 COVID-19 deaths a week, they underscore the growing concerns over new super-contagious subvariants that have fueled a new wave of infections.
For all the observations that Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the Delta variant, which was the culprit behind last summer’s surge, the coronavirus just this year has already led to three times as many deaths as the county typically recorded in an average pre-pandemic flu season.
So far in 2022, the deaths of 4,390 county residents from COVID-19 have been reported — essentially equal to the typical combined toll of the flu, drug overdoses and motor vehicle accidents over an entire calendar year, Ferrer said.
About 1,500 people in L.A. County died annually from the flu before the pandemic, one person a year from a cold, more than 2,000 a year from accidental drug overdoses and nearly 900 a year from motor vehicle accidents.
In California, an average of 37 COVID-19 deaths have been reported per day over the last week, a rate that’s remained relatively steady in the last two months. The state’s cumulative pandemic death toll has now surpassed 92,000, according to data compiled by The Times. That’s roughly equivalent to the population of Santa Monica.
L.A. County recorded nearly 12,000 COVID-associated deaths in 2020 and almost 14,500 in 2021.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise.
The number of coronavirus-positive patients in L.A. County hospitals on any given day has doubled in the last month to nearly 1,200 as of Monday, the highest figure since February. Of them, 115 were in the intensive care unit, an increase of 64% in the last month.
Statewide, the latest census was 4,227, the highest single-day total since late February.
Only about 42% of L.A. County’s hospitalized coronavirus-positive patients are admitted specifically for COVID-19 illness — as opposed to incidentally testing positive while being in the hospital for other reasons. But officials have also noted a recent increase in the share of coronavirus-related visits to emergency departments. Two months ago, 5% of emergency room visits were coronavirus-related; now it’s close to 10%.
Hospitals can still be strained even when many coronavirus-positive patients are not being treated for COVID-19 illness, given the extensive resources needed to isolate them.
Nationally, coronavirus-positive hospitalizations have nearly doubled over the last two months, rising to more than 30,000 as of Sunday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor for the pandemic, said it’s possible there could be an uptick in COVID-related intensive care unit admissions nationally.
Monkeypox: From the New York Times: By now you’ve probably heard of monkeypox, the latest disease making headlines as it spreads across the world.
Usually confined to Africa, the virus has recently taken root in countries that hadn’t been vulnerable in the past, including the United States. More than 1,000 cases have been detected nationwide this year, according to the C.D.C.
Over two years into the coronavirus pandemic, we’re all exhausted by the threat of infectious diseases. But let’s be clear: Monkeypox is unlikely to become the next Covid-19, as my colleague Knvul Sheikh explains. It’s not as contagious, and we’ve had tests and vaccines for the virus for years.
Still, health officials in California want people to be aware of what’s going on with monkeypox and to know how to stay safe.
As of Tuesday, the most recent day for which data is available, 186 confirmed or suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported in California.
The end of the business lunch? From the New York Times: Of all the headaches the pandemic has caused the restaurant industry, among the most persistent is the disruption of the business of doing business over lunch.
It afflicts an influential cohort of restaurateurs who own prestigious restaurants in the hearts of large cities that office workers have fled — along with their corporate expense accounts. And it comes as the cost of doing business, particularly in dense urban areas, is spiking.
Lunch reservations in the first four months of this year at restaurants with an average check of more than $50 were sharply lower than during the same period in 2019, according to OpenTable data. They fell in Washington (by 38 percent), New York City (38 percent), San Diego (42 percent), Philadelphia (54 percent) and Chicago (58 percent).
Instead, the restaurant lunch is thriving in less-fancy dining rooms across the country, particularly in the suburban and residential city neighborhoods where many Americans have worked during the pandemic.
The trend heightens concerns about the viability of independent restaurants in big cities, which are bulwarks against the homogenizing effect of corporate chains. Some are remaining closed for lunch, even as demand for dinner reservations returns. Many operators say rising costs and labor shortages make lower-priced lunch menus near-certain money losers.
The Economy: From the LA Times: Prices up 9.1% in June, highest since ’81-Surging inflation adds to consumer squeeze and pressures Fed to keep raising rates.
U.S. inflation surged to a new four-decade high in June because of rising prices for gas, food and rent, squeezing household budgets and pressuring the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates aggressively — trends that raise the risk of a recession.
The government’s consumer price index soared 9.1% in June from June 2021, the biggest year-over-year increase since 1981, with nearly half of the increase attributed to higher energy costs.
Lower-income and Black and Latino households have been hit especially hard because a disproportionate share of their income goes toward essentials such as transportation, housing and food. But with the cost of many goods and services rising faster than average incomes, a vast majority of Americans are feeling the pinch.
Accelerating inflation is a vexing problem for the Federal Reserve too. The Fed is already engaged in the fastest series of interest rate increases in three decades, which it hopes will cool inflation by tamping down borrowing and spending by consumers and businesses.
The U.S. economy shrank in the first three months of the year, and many analysts believe the trend continued in the second quarter.
The likelihood of larger rate increases this year pushed stock indexes lower in afternoon trading. The central bank is expected to raise its key short-term rate later this month by a hefty three-quarters of a point, as it did last month.
The year-over-year leap in consumer prices last month followed an 8.6% year-over-year jump in May. From May to June, prices rose 1.3% after a 1% increase from April to May.
Some economists believe inflation might be reaching a short-term peak. Gas prices, for example, have fallen from the $5 a gallon reached in mid-June to an average of $4.63 nationwide Wednesday — still far higher than a year ago.
Shipping costs and commodity prices have also begun to fall, and pay increases have slowed. Surveys show that Americans’ expectations for inflation over the long run have eased — a trend that often points to more moderate price increases over time.
Republican members of Congress have blamed the higher prices on Biden’s economic policies, specifically his $1.9-trillion financial support package approved in March.
There have been signs that inflation was slowing before — last summer, and in April of this year — only for it to surge again in subsequent months.
Some people are placing blame on companies for using inflation as a cover to raise prices beyond the amount they need to cover their own higher costs.
Most economists say corporate price gouging is, at most, one of many causes of runaway inflation and not the primary one.
Housing and rental costs are rising steadily as solid job gains encourage more Americans to move out on their own. Rents have risen 5.8% from a year earlier, the most since 1986. And the cost of decorating homes is still increasing at a rapid pace — furniture prices are up 13% from a year earlier — even as retailers such as Walmart and Target experience rising inventories, which should help lower prices.
The biggest shock has been energy prices, which soared 7.5% just from May to June. Gas prices have skyrocketed nearly 60% from a year earlier.
Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, so-called core prices rose 0.7% from May to June, the biggest such increase in a year. Core prices jumped 5.9% from a year earlier.
Inflation is surging well beyond the United States, with 71 million people pushed into poverty in the three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.N. Development Program said last week.
Inflation hit decades-high levels of 8.6% last month in the 19 countries that use the euro currency and 9.1% in the United Kingdom in May.
Central bankers around the world are lifting interest rates at an aggressive clip as rapid inflation persists and seeps into a broad array of goods and services, setting the global economy up for a lurch toward more expensive credit, lower stock and bond values and — potentially — a sharp pullback in economic activity.
It’s a moment unlike anything the international community has experienced in decades, as countries around the world try to bring rapid price increases under control before they become a more lasting part of the economy.
Inflation has surged across many advanced and developing economies since early 2021 as strong demand for goods collided with shortages brought on by the pandemic. Central banks spent months hoping that economies would reopen and shipping routes would unclog, easing supply constraints, and that consumer spending would return to normal. That hasn’t happened, and the war in Ukraine has only intensified the situation by disrupting oil and food supplies, pushing prices even higher.
Global economic policymakers began responding in earnest this year, with at least 75 central banks lifting interest rates, many from historically low levels. While policymakers cannot do much to contain high energy prices, higher borrowing costs could help slow consumer and business demand to give supply a chance to catch up across an array of goods and services so that inflation does not continue indefinitely.
Supply strains, while still afflicting many consumers and businesses, are becoming more mundane than menacing like they were six months ago, especially in the U.S. Snarls have eased since their pandemic peaks and some are already adding less inflationary pressure.
Modest improvements are showing up in gauges maintained by forecasters including Bloomberg Economics and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. But the gradual end of the pandemic-driven supply crunch might give way to another potential headache: a slump in consumer demand that throws economic growth into reverse and leads to an ugly inventory pileup.
Economists generally agree that U.S. household demand for merchandise will be key to watch in coming months, but they’re split about whether it will stay strong or start to soften. One private indicator suggests it might be poised to tip back toward normal as people dine out, see shows and travel more than they did during the pandemic.