Los Angeles County remains on pace to enter the “high” COVID-19 activity level as early as Thursday, the public health director said today, and absent a major reversal in virus-related hospitalizations, an indoor mask-wearing mandate will be imposed two weeks later.

The mandate would not immediately apply in Long Beach, where health officials have not said when or if they may reimpose such a mandate.

The county is already in the “medium” COVID level as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on the elevated rate of people being infected with the virus. If the county’s rate of daily COVID-positive patients being admitted to area hospitals tops 10 per 100,000 residents, it will enter the “high” category.

As of Tuesday, that rate countywide was at 8.8 per 100,000 residents. It’s unclear how many COVID patients are in Long Beach area hospitals. The city hasn’t been able to get accurate numbers since May 27 because of data transfer issues between the local health department and the state.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, echoing projections she gave last week, told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that she expects the county to enter the “high” activity category within days.

“Given the continued increase, we do anticipate by this Thursday the county will move into that high level,” Ferrer said.

If the county remains in the “high” category for two consecutive weeks, a mandatory indoor mask-wearing mandate will be imposed, she said. Under the current pace, that mandate will take effect by July 29.

“I do recognize that when we return to universal indoor masking to reduce high spread, for many this will feel like a step backwards,” Ferrer said.

But she said universal masking “makes a lot of sense because it helps us to reduce risk.”

She again pointed to recent studies showing dramatic reduction in infection risk for people who wear face coverings, particularly for people who wear higher-grade masks, such as N95 or KN95 masks.

Masks are already still mandated in some indoor spaces—health care facilities, transit hubs, on transit vehicles, airports, correctional facilities and shelters.

A universal mandate would spread the requirement to all indoor public spaces, including shared office spaces, manufacturing facilities, retail stores, indoor events, indoor restaurants and bars and schools. Long Beach continues to strongly recommend masks in all those settings.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger urged Ferrer and health officials to conduct outreach to local businesses to discuss the impacts they could face, “especially when surrounding counties are not considering” a mandate.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl again forcefully backed the idea of requiring masks, saying she has “no patience” for people who won’t wear them.

“People are just not wearing them when they’re not mandated,” Kuehl said.

Staff writer Brandon Richardson contributed to this report.

Long Beach may not initially follow county if new mask mandate is enacted later this month, health officials say