COVID Mask Mandates Return Across US Hospitals

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Masks are back in some locations in New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington state.

Hospitals in places across the United States have re-implemented mask mandates due to what officials say is an uptick of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.

For example, the NYC Health + Hospitals—officially the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation that operates public hospitals and clinics in New York City—announced that mask mandates will be reimplemented at its hospitals.

“Due to an uptick in respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, flu & RSV in our communities & our hospital, we must return to mandatory masking. Please wear a mask when you visit us!” the hospital operator wrote on X, formerly Twitter, earlier this week. It showed a photo of staff members wearing masks.
It separately wrote that “mandatory masking” was reinstated at its Jacobi facility in the Bronx due “the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities.”
While the hospital and other medical facilities have cited recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data showing an increase in COVID-19 cases, historical data from the same agency shows that the increase has been relatively small compared to previous years. As of Dec. 16, the agency data shows that more than 25,000 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 across the United States, whereas in Dec. 16, 2022, more than 36,000 were hospitalized.

Other Mask Mandates

UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, confirmed to local media that it would issue a monthlong mask requirement for its staff, effective Jan. 2. Patients and visitors will not be mandated to wear face coverings.

“These changes are expected to remain in effect for approximately one month, at which time they will be reevaluated based on current trends,” a spokesperson for the hospital said in the statement. “The health and wellbeing of our patients, visitors and employees is our top priority.”

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Mass General Brigham, the largest health system in Massachusetts, also announced it is reinstating masking requirements due to COVID-19.

“Our masking policies are based on the current respiratory illness rates in our communities,” Mass General Brigham confirmed in a statement to local media on Thursday.

In Delaware, TidalHealth said it is mandating masks for all hospital visitors in patients’ rooms, starting Thursday. That rule was initiated, according to the hospital, in “an effort to protect the most vulnerable of our population from close contact with persons that may be contagious but not yet have symptoms.”
Thousands of miles across the country, in Washington state, Kaiser Permanente confirmed to local media that staffers who work in person with patients have to wear masks. Kaiser spokeswoman Linnae Riesen told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that masks are required for its workers, but patients and visitors are not required to wear them.

“Masks are not required but are strongly recommended for patients and visitors who do not have respiratory symptoms and are visiting low-risk areas of our medical facilities,” said Kaiser’s guidance, reported the news outlet.

In Indiana, officials at Beacon hospitals said that Memorial Hospital and Elkhart General, located in South Bend, are re-implementing masking requirements for visitors, patients and staff, according to local reports. Earlier this month, several hospitals in Pittsburgh, hospitals in Boston, and UW Hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin also implemented mask requirements to varying degrees.
Meanwhile, multiple California counties across the Bay Area region have already imposed a mask mandate for staff that started in November and will run until the end of spring due to a predicted rise in respiratory illnesses.

CDC Update

The CDC last week posted an update saying that the new COVID-19 variant, JN.1, makes up nearly half of all U.S. cases. Two weeks ago, it amounted to about 15–29 percent of all cases.

JN.1, the agency said, is continuing “to cause an increasing share of infections and is now the most widely circulating variant in the United States,” adding that the strain now about 39 percent to 50 percent of all COVID-19 cases.

It is too early to tell whether JN.1 will cause an increase in infections or hospitalizations, the CDC said. However, the U.N.’s World Health Organization separately said JN.1 doesn’t appear to pose a high risk as compared with other variants as it listed JN.1 as a “variant of interest.”

“The spread of this variant will unlikely increase the burden on national public health systems compared to other Omicron sublineages,” WHO said earlier in December. “However, countries approaching the winter season should be aware that, altogether, SARS-CoV-2 and co-circulating pathogens may exacerbate the respiratory disease burden.”

Officials say symptoms of a JN.1 COVID-19 infection could include a cough, sore throat, fever, and headache as well as muscle aches, loss of taste or smell, runny nose, brain fog, fatigue, muscle aches, and congestion.

“As we observe the rise of the JN.1 variant, it’s important to note that while it may be spreading more widely, there is currently no significant evidence suggesting it is more severe or that it poses a substantial public health risk,” Dr. John Brownstein, with the Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News last week.



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