Los Angeles County holds off on mask mandate even as it enters 'high' COVD transmission category

PHOTO: Shoppers, some wearing masks, some not, make their way along Santee Alley in Los Angeles, Dec. 6, 2022. PlayGenaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag
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Los Angeles County said Thursday it is holding off on issuing an indoor mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

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During a press conference, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county had moved into the "high" COVID-19 community transmission category, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it would be sticking with its "strong recommendation" on indoor masking.

Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer left the option of a mask mandate on the table, but if and only if 10% of county hospital beds are filled with COVID patients.

Right now that number is only 6.9%, and the rate of increase has slowed in the past week. Ferrer said it's not a forgone conclusion that the county will reach that critical level during the current surge.

"Being at a high community level does not mean returning to the more restrictive and disruptive measures that we used at earlier times in the pandemic, before we had good access to vaccines, boosters, testing and therapeutics," she said at the conference.

This is a reversal from previous policy in the county that moving into the CDC's "high" transmission level would spur a mandate. The changing guidance comes as the health department has dangled the prospect of an impending mask mandate for weeks in a row for the second time this year.

PHOTO: A pedestrian wearing a protective mask and face shield passes in front of a mural of artist Frida Khalo in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Dec. 3, 2020. Bloomberg via Getty Images
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask and face shield passes in front of a mural of artist Frida Khalo in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Dec. 3, 2020.

"We do ask that while we are in surge everyone ages two and older wear a mask in indoor public spaces," Ferrer said.

As of Wednesday, Los Angeles County is recording more than 5,000 daily cases, the highest number recorded since Aug. 1, according to an ABC News analysis of health department data.

It's also an 80% increase from the 2,805 cases recorded just two weeks ago on Nov. 23, the analysis found.

However, officials have previously stated that the true number of cases is likely much higher due to people testing positive and not reporting their results to the department or not testing at all.

What's more, a total of 1,293 people are hospitalized with the virus as of Wednesday, a figure not seen since July 18, according to the analysis.

Masks continue to be compulsory indoors at healthcare and congregate-care facilities, at business where required and for anyone who has been exposed to COVID in the last 10 days.

Officials have stressed the importance of being vaccinated and boosted to prevent infection and severe disease, especially as the holiday season approaches.

As of Nov. 27 -- the latest date for which health department data is available -- 73% of all residents are fully vaccinated but the percentages vary widely by age.

Seniors aged 65 and older have the highest rate with 92% fully vaccinated while children between ages 6 months and 4 years have the lowest rate with just 6% fully vaccinated.

ABC News' Matthew Fuhrman contributed to this report.