As rates of Covid-19 and influenza continue to climb across the U.S., local officials are recommending masking in some cities, but stopping short of mandates.
On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams wore a mask at a press conference at City Hall, and advised New Yorkers to “mask up,” in addition to getting tested and vaccinated.
He did not, however, announce new masking requirements. The city’s public school system has also asked students and staff this month to wear masks indoors, but hasn’t made that mandatory.
While a few local school systems in the northeast have announced mask mandates in recent days, they are few and far between.
On Wednesday, a large public school district that covers New Jersey’s Passaic County began to require masks for students and staff. Philadelphia’s school district announced Tuesday that it will require masks for the first two weeks of January. SUNY Purchase, a public university in New York’s Westchester county, also reinstated a mask mandate earlier this month.
Meanwhile, hospital systems in some parts of the country have reported that the combined impact of flu and Covid-19 are pushing them past capacity, though nationally inpatient hospital bed utilization is at 79%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Hospitals in New Hampshire are 95% full, according to a report from the local television news channel WMUR9, and intensive care units are under pressure in Mississippi, according to another local station, WLOX.
The U.S. is averaging just over 40,100 people in hospitals with Covid-19 each day, up 9% over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times tracker. Hospitalizations are not rising as quickly as they were earlier this month, but are continuing to tick upward as the winter season begins, and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays approach.
Influenza hospitalizations, meanwhile, are dramatically higher at this point in the season than in any other year since at least 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While influenza-associated hospitalization rates dipped the week of Dec. 10, there were still 4.5 flu-associated hospitalizations per every 100,000 people in the U.S. The same week last year, there were just 0.4 such hospitalizations for every 100,000 people.
Mask mandates grew controversial, and highly politicized, as the pandemic progressed, and by early this year were revoked in the jurisdictions where they had remained in place. The CDC now recommends masks in 9.2% of U.S. counties, and recommends that high-risk people wear masks in another 35% of U.S. counties. That guidance is based on transmission levels of Covid-19, and not of influenza or RSV, though the CDC director said earlier this month that the agency is considering changing that.
The CDC currently recommends mask-wearing in all of New York City.
The Omicron subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 are continuing to push out BA.5, which was dominant through the summer and much of the fall but now accounts for just 10% of infections in the U.S., according to the CDC. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 together account for nearly 70%. The changing variant picture has knocked out all of the monoclonal antibody treatments used to treat Covid-19 infections, and new research suggests that the updated boosters from
(ticker: MRNA) and
(PFE) may be less effective against the new subvariants than against BA.5.
Write to Josh Nathan-Kazis at firstname.lastname@example.org