Even as COVID cases rise, mask mandates stay shelved

New York, May 4 (BUS): An increase in COVID-19 infections across the United States has sent more cities into new high-risk categories that are supposed to lead to indoor masks being worn, but much of the country is still unable to restore restrictions. The Associated Press (AP) reported, amidst severe strain from the pandemic.

For weeks, much of upstate New York has been in the orange high alert zone, a classification from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reflects dangerous community spread. The CDC is urging people to wear masks in indoor public spaces, including schools, regardless of their vaccination status. But few, if any, local jurisdictions in the area have reinstated the mask requirement despite the high number of cases.

In New York City, cases are rising again and this week it crossed the city’s threshold for “medium risk,” indicating the wide spread of the sub-variable known as BA.2 that swept across the northern regions of the state. But there appears to be little appetite from Mayor Eric Adams for a facial just a few months after residents were allowed to toss in masks and put up vaccination cards that were previously required to enter restaurants and concert halls. Adams said the city could pivot and reimpose states but stressed that he wanted to keep the city open.

Said Professor David Larsen, a public health expert at Syracuse University in upstate New York, who currently owns an orange area.

“People are still dying,” he said, “but not in the same numbers.”

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Nationwide, the number of hospitalizations is up slightly but still as low as any point in the pandemic. Deaths have fallen steadily in the past three months to nearly the lowest numbers.

The silent response reflects the country’s exhaustion after two years of new restrictions and challenges that health leaders are facing at this point in the pandemic.

The abundance of at-home virus testing kits has led to a sharp drop in the number of COVID-19 cases that was once an important criterion. Researchers estimate that more than 60% of the country’s population contracted the virus during the Omicron wave, providing high levels of protection over tens of millions of vaccines. The number of hospitalizations increased, but only slightly.

Jim Kearns, a videographer at the State University of New York in Oswego, another upstate New York community in the CDC’s orange zone, said.

“I think a lot of people just finished,” he said. “If I saw death rates and hospitalizations go up in crazy numbers, if I felt there was a danger to me and my family, I would be on a pulse. But it was a long two years.”

In Boston, even as cases of COVID-19 began popping up again, there was little motivation to reimpose the indoor mask that city officials largely lifted two months ago. Boston still needs masks in schools and on school buses. The statewide mask mandate for schools was lifted at the end of February.

The city is now focusing on what Boston Mayor Michael Wu called recovery efforts, including drawing workers and visitors into downtown. Health officials continue to urge them to be vigilant. During the run of the Boston Marathon in April, which drew tens of thousands of competitors, race organizers and city officials recommended runners take steps to stop the spread of the virus through vaccination, COVID-19 testing, and not accepting water from spectators.

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In Maine, there have been few efforts to restore COVID-19 reserves, even after Democratic Governor Janet Mills tested positive for COVID-19 at the end of April. The 74-year-old, who received a second booster, said she believes this is “one of the reasons I’m still fine” and encouraged others to get vaccinated.

One of the most dramatic backlash came in Philadelphia, which last month relinquished its indoor mask mandate just days after becoming the first US city to reintroduce compulsory mask in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

City officials, who have said they want to avoid a new wave of infections, abruptly backed down after what they said was an unexpected drop in the number of people hospitalized and a drop in new infections. The shift came amid growing opposition to reinstating the position, but city officials said the decision was about data, not politics.

The cities’ inaction comes after a federal judge in Florida last month rescinded a mandate for national masks for travelers on planes, trains and buses. The CDC is still urging people to wear face coverings but the Transportation Security Administration has said it will stop applying the mask at airports and flights, even as the White House said it would appeal the ruling.

In March, Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, ended its authorization for indoor mask use after COVID-19 cases declined. Burlington was one of more than two dozen communities in Vermont that required anonymity after the legislature in November granted towns and cities the power to do so. Even with the masks taken off, COVID is back in status.

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Half of Vermont’s 14 counties are currently classified as having high levels of COVID-19 in the community, according to the CDC. The rankings are based on a few factors, including new hospital admissions due to the virus.

Chicago’s infection rate is also on the rise, although hospitalizations and deaths remain as low as in most places.

But the growing number of infections caused enough concern that the school district sent a letter to parents alerting them to the possibility that with the rise, Cook County, which includes Chicago, may move from a “low risk” to a “moderate risk” category in the coming days.

The letter did not say whether the school district would again require students and staff to wear masks or return to distance learning.


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