Face masks are coming to the fore again amid the triple threat of Covid-19, flu and RSV
Months after most mask requests ended and many people stopped wearing them, some of the country’s leading health experts are encouraging people to put on face masks again — but this time it’s not just because of Covid-19.
As the triple threat of respiratory illnesses — flu, RSV and Covid-19 — sweeps the nation this holiday season, health officials are urging people to take precautions to protect themselves: Get vaccinated, wash your hands often and even wear a mask in certain circumstances.
“There’s been a lot of focus on patients at higher risk of complications from all of these diseases — the elderly, people with any underlying disease, anyone with a weakened immune system — I think there’s been a lot of dust during this flurry of this tridemic, if Will from your mask. Put the mask back on,’ said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
At this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, even when other types of respiratory viruses are circulating, mask recommendations based on individual risk have been at the center of public health discussions, “rather than saying everyone in the community needs to put their masks back on,” Schaffner said. .
“I don’t want to go for mandates because I think in a lot of the United States you’re going to get a lot of pushback and people are going to ignore it. Public health recommendations must be acceptable,” he added.
“The idea that during waves of the virus like this, that people at risk should wear masks and be more careful seems completely reasonable – and I would add, especially in this part of the country, that we should be accepting, tolerant and indeed supportive of people who do this because they have a reason,” said Schaffner, who lives in Nashville.
“Don’t see this as a political statement or a social statement. This is a statement relating solely to health.”
Some communities across the country are considering bringing back certain mask recommendations as the wave of respiratory illnesses worsens.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers specific guidance on when masking is recommended based on the level of Covid-19 in the community.
The agency says people can choose to wear masks at any time, but that a “high-quality mask or respirator” is recommended for everyone when a county has a “high” level of Covid-19 in the community.
From Thursday, approx 5.66% of US counties have a high level of community, including some sites in Arizona, Wyoming, Oregon, and the Dakotas.
In Los Angeles County, public health officials are considering returning to certain masking policies in indoor public spaces if they start seeing high levels of Covid-19 in the community.
There has been an increase in hospitalizations due to Covid-19 and looming uncertainty about where the coronavirus trends will go this season, said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. he said at a press briefing last week.
“If we use the CDC’s community level framework, LA County went from a low community level to a medium community level this week,” Ferrer said on Dec. 1.
“We could be at a community high as early as next week if the upward trends we’re seeing continue,” she said. “If both hospital indicators, new admissions with Covid-19 and the proportion of staffed hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, cross the threshold for high and our case rate is at or above 200 new cases per 100,000 people, LA County will follow CDC guidelines for communities determined at a high community level, including universal masking in closed spaces.”
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County has been at the forefront of implementing mitigation measures. In this case, officers would follow CDC guidelines on masking and community levels.
“What LA County is doing is they’re looking at their increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and they’re seeing an upward trend toward that high level of community transmission, and they’re preparing to re-implement the guidelines that go with high community transmission, which is a re-implementation universal masking,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Each community has been looking at the same guidelines, considering whether they are approaching high levels and may need to reconsider universal masking, Freeman said.
“Now, I’m saying all of this based on the pure facts of the guidelines, but I think there’s the potential for it to turn back into a community-by-community political divide where elected officials and others may or may not want to see universal masking implemented again. But we will have to see if that legal division will reappear,” she said. “There’s not a lot of appetite to re-implement some of these original mitigation efforts.”
In New York, state officials have encouraged schools and communities to take precautions such as public masking indoors as RSV, Covid-19 and the flu circulate, according to letter from Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and Education Commissioner Betty Rosa.
The letter, published on Monday, warns of numerous respiratory viruses burdening state health institutions.
In the past three weeks, the number of flu hospitalizations in New York has more than doubled, and laboratory-confirmed flu cases have nearly tripled, the letter said.
“In response, we’re calling for a community-wide approach, including schools, to once again take precautions this holiday season and winter that can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses and protect young children, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.” the trustees wrote.
The letter says schools and communities should encourage indoor public masking, vaccinations and frequent hand washing, among other measures.
“We encourage schools to use their local health departments as a partner and resource in this work,” commissioners said. “Together, we will ensure that all students in our state have a healthy and safe holiday season.”
CDC’s community-level Covid-19 metrics for US counties are based on three things: new hospitalizations for Covid-19, hospital capacity, and new cases of Covid-19. But the agency is considering revisiting these community levels, possibly to include data on other respiratory viruses such as influenza and RSV, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.
“This is something that we are actively investigating at the CDC. In the meantime, what I want to say is that you don’t have to wait for CDC action to put on a mask,” she said.
“We know that 5% of the population lives in places with a high level of community Covid-19. We encourage people to wear masks,” she said, adding that people should stay home when they are sick, practice good hygiene such as frequent hand washing and improve ventilation in closed spaces.
Covid-19 hospitalizations begin to increase after Thanksgiving: More than 34,000 people were admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 last week, a 20% increase from the week before, According to the CDC. Ensemble forecasts from the CDC predict a continued increase over the next month.
About 1,800 deaths from Covid-19 were reported to the CDC in the last week of November, and overall forecasts predicting deaths from Covid will remain unchanged for the next month.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is get off this month as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he is not afraid to recommend a return to masking in some circumstances as the nation faces the triple threat of Covid-19, influenza and RSV.
“I’m not talking about determining anything,” Fauci he said on “NBC Nightly News” on Wednesday. “I’m just talking about common sense when I say, ‘You know, I really don’t want to risk getting infected and, moreover, passing it on to someone who is a vulnerable member of my family.’ ”