As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a threat to public health, some places in the U.S. have reinstated mask mandates to curb the spread of the virus. The new measures come amid a surge in cases driven by the highly contagious EG.5 variant, which has been detected in all 50 states.
Masking Up Again in New York and California
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that all city workers will be required to wear masks indoors starting on Monday, regardless of their vaccination status. The mandate will affect about 300,000 employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters. The mayor also urged private employers to adopt similar policies and said that the city will offer incentives for people to get vaccinated.
In California, several counties have issued new mask recommendations or requirements for indoor settings, even for fully vaccinated people. Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the nation, reinstated its indoor mask mandate on July 17. Other counties, such as San Francisco, Santa Clara and Alameda, have strongly recommended that everyone wear masks indoors as a precaution.
Health Care and Education Sectors Embrace Masking
Some health care providers and educational institutions have also implemented mask mandates to protect their staff and students from COVID-19. Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest health care organizations in the country, said on Tuesday that it will require all employees and physicians to be fully vaccinated or apply for a medical or religious exemption by September 30. In addition, Kaiser Permanente has reintroduced a mask mandate for everyone in its hospitals and medical offices in Santa Rosa, California.
Rutgers University in New Jersey, which was the first major U.S. university to require COVID-19 vaccination for students in March, announced on Wednesday that it will also require masking indoors for all members of its community. Morris Brown College in Georgia, a historically Black college that reopened this year after losing its accreditation in 2002, said on Thursday that it will mandate masks and social distancing on campus for the next two weeks.
CDC Stands by Its Mask Guidance for Now
Despite the rising cases and the emergence of new variants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not changed its mask guidance for fully vaccinated people. The CDC says that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations. However, the CDC also says that people who are immunocompromised, older or have certain medical conditions may want to continue wearing masks even if they are fully vaccinated.
The CDC’s stance has been criticized by some public health experts who argue that universal masking indoors is necessary to prevent further transmission and outbreaks. Dr. Céline Gounder, a CBS News medical contributor and editor-at-large for public health at KFF Health News, said that people 65-plus and people who are immunocompromised should strongly consider masking during flu, RSV and COVID season while in indoor public spaces. Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS News chief medical correspondent, said that he likes to use the “weather report analogy” for the general public: “What’s the weather out today? If it’s raining, you will probably want to bring an umbrella. If you are in an area where there is an uptick in airborne respiratory infections like COVID, flu or RSV, you may want to take extra precautions, such as wearing a high-quality mask in indoor public spaces”.