Rising COVID-19 cases prompt questions about mask mandates in the US
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge in the United States, concerns are mounting about the need to reinstate mask mandates. The country is experiencing a late-summer spike in infections, with hospitalization rates increasing by nearly 19 percent in just one week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The spike in COVID-19 cases is driven by the spread of several new variants, including EG.5, FL.1.5.1, and BA.2.86. The CDC has estimated that EG.5 accounts for 21.5 percent of all new cases, while FL.1.5.1 makes up 14.5 percent of new infections, and BA.2.86, the highly mutated variant, constitutes less than one percent.
Concerningly, BA.2.86 is raising alarms among health experts because it may be “more capable of causing infection” in individuals who have previously had COVID-19 or have been vaccinated.
The spike in COVID-19 cases is driven by the spread of several new variants, including EG.5, FL.1.5.1, and BA.2.86.
Health officials are carefully monitoring the situation, especially as hospital admissions continue to rise. Hospitals and medical facilities in some regions have already reinstated mask mandates, including facilities in New York, California, and Massachusetts.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, emphasized the importance of masks for certain vulnerable populations, stating, “People who are older, who have underlying chronic medical conditions, who are immune-compromised, and who are pregnant—we ought to get those masks out again, to protect ourselves.”
One of the key concerns is the potential for BA.2.86 to evade immunity from previous infections or vaccinations. To address this, an updated COVID-19 booster is in development and is expected to be available to the public by the end of September.
Dr. Schaffner stressed the importance of receiving the booster when it becomes available. “Your protection will diminish over time. So even if you’ve had COVID in the past, once this new booster becomes available, you should get it.”
Your protection will diminish over time. So even if you’ve had COVID in the past, once this new booster becomes available, you should get it,” says an infectious disease specialist
The rise in COVID-19 cases is also impacting schools, hospitals, and businesses, with some institutions encouraging or requiring people to wear masks once again. As shared in NPR, Syracuse, New York, Upstate Medical University has reinstated a mask mandate in its hospitals due to rising hospitalizations and the detection of the highly transmissible EG.5 variant in the community’s wastewater.
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As the situation evolves, public health experts emphasize the need for vigilance and adherence to preventive measures, including mask-wearing, maintaining physical distance in crowded places, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, and practicing regular hand hygiene.
While there’s no need for panic, experts agree that being cautious and maintaining a healthy immune system remain essential safeguards to navigate the evolving landscape of COVID-19 variants.