By Andrew Alonzo | [email protected]

It might be a new year, but an old health practice is back as hospital admissions due to COVID-19 continue to swell in Los Angeles County.

As of late last month, workers and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, at licensed healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes throughout the county are required to mask up as LA County hospital admission levels for COVID-19 have reached medium status according to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC breaks down COVID-19 hospital admission levels into three categories based on average new, weekly admissions per population of 100,000. Low level is considered less than 10 admissions, medium level ranges from 10 to 19.9 admissions, while high level sits at 20 or more admissions. Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 hospital admission rate — using the latest CDC data from December 29, 2023 — sits at 10.5.

Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

When such levels sit at or above medium, the CDC recommends the public wear high quality masks such as an N95, or KN95, or KF94 respirators in indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and to self-test regularly if exhibiting COVID-19 or other respiratory virus symptoms, or before coming into contact with someone who is either prone to severe illness or has a underlying health condition.

In addition, “To help stem the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, residents should prioritize common-sense precautions to protect themselves and others,” read a December 28 news release from the LA County Department of Public Health. Practices also include staying home when sick and washing hands often.

A December 27, 2023, health order from LACDPH, read in part that the masking amendment “will remain in effect until the new COVID-19 Hospital Admission Level in Los Angeles County is below the CDC’s Medium Level for at least 14 consecutive days.”

Should the county’s COVID-19 hospital admissions rate fall below 10 by Wednesday, January 10, a new set of guidelines following a low level status could be issued later this month. But, with COVID-19 as well as flu and respiratory syncytial virus on the upswing, that may not happen.

“In recent weeks, our Associates have been able to see the rise in admissions for patients with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV),” Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Centerspokesperson Amber Brenneisen wrote in an email Wednesday.

From December 20, 2023 to December 27 the daily average number of COVID-positive hospitalizations increased from 604 to 686, while daily average deaths crept up from 3.6 to 4.9, according to LACDPH data.

Of the 10,705 COVID-19 cases recorded in Claremont since the start of the pandemic, 122 have resulted in death according to the LACDPH statistics‚ updated December 28, 2023.

“It is up to all of us to stop the spread of COVID-19 so we can safely return to ‘low’ levels and reduce masking,” PVHMC’s Brenneisen added.

When LACDPH retired its masking order for workers in healthcare and direct care settings in April 2023, masking requirements ceased at PVHMC facilities. Patients and visitors were also encouraged, but not required, to wear masks. However, due to the latest health order, universal masking was reinstated effective December 29, 2023 at PVHMC facilities.

“Unfortunately, visitors who choose not to wear a mask will not be permitted to enter the hospital, per LACDPH guidelines,” Brenneisen wrote. “Visitors are required to wear a hospital-provided mask upon entry and are advised that the mask must stay on for the duration of their visit.”

Hand hygiene practices have continued to be mandatory for all upon entering and exiting PVHMC’s hospitals and patient rooms.

Even before last month’s health order, Claremont Manor, a retirement community in Claremont overseen by Front Porch, had continued requiring staff and visitors to mask up before entering its Care Center.

“The safety of all residents and staff is our priority at Claremont Manor,” Claremont Manor Care Center Administrator Diana Canzoneri wrote in an email Wednesday. “In our Care Center’s patient care areas, we have continuously worn masks since 2020 as part of our commitment to ensure the health and wellness of our residents. We are closely following all COVID updates in Los Angeles County and will continue to make any necessary policy updates to best support our community.”

When Claremont senior living facility Pilgrim Place reopened to the public last April, masking became optional for visitors. However, talks among staff and residents have prompted visitors to once again be asked to mask up, while masking policies have differed for residents and staff across the facility.

Dianna Fisher, the Pilgrim Place’s vice president of advancement, wrote in an email Wednesday that masking has never ceased within Pilgrim Place’s skilled nursing or memory care centers, nor in its assisted living quarters at Pitzer Lodge, despite eased orders from federal, state or county officials.

“As for our Independent Living residents, masking is currently not required unless warranted under special circumstances,” Fisher wrote.

With respiratory viruses such as COVID-19, the flu and RSV ever-present, residents young and old are encouraged to get an updated shot and/or booster to help curb infections at local vaccine clinics. Antiviral medications such as Paxlovid are also recommended to help fight COVID-19.

As of November 2023, United States residents can order four free individual rapid antigen at-home COVID-19 tests from the CDC’s website, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html. The order form, at special.usps.com/testkits, does not ask for proof of insurance. Questions about testing can be directed to the CDC by calling (800) 232-0233.

Los Angeles County residents with questions about this season’s infections can call the Public Health Infoline at (833) 540-0473 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days-a-week.

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