Masks are slowly creeping back into daily life once again — despite Covid being an afterthought for most Americans.
Over the weekend, Washington state, Los Angeles and New York City issued fresh recommendations urging residents to mask-up in indoor public spaces.
It means that nearly 20million Americans across the three states are now under a mask advisory.
While Covid is no longer the concern it once was, America is currently being battered by its worst flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) outbreaks in more than a decade.
Officials have not gone as far as reintroducing mandates yet, but the new recommendations confirm many skeptics’ suspicions that measures brought in to fight the once-in-a-generation pandemic would be used again to combat seasonal bugs.
New York City officials advised residents to wear masks in indoor public places and outdoor crowded places last week. Pictured: Two people in New York City wear the face coverings while walking through a crowd on December 12
Washington state is recorded 1,481 new flu infections during the week that ended on December 3, the highest point of this flu season so far
Covid cases are rising in nearly every US state, striking the US south the hardest this month
Over the weekend, 12 counties in Washington, including Seattle and King County, issued a mask advisory as cases of the flu and RSV fill hospitals in the region.
Meanwhile, 1,000 miles south along the west coast, Los Angeles County officials issued a mask advisory as cases of annual viruses and COVID-19 surge in the Southern California region.
Both orders come after New York City officials also put out a mask recommendation last week. None of these orders are mandates, but they could encourage some private businesses to start requiring masks.
The return of masks comes as America’s ‘tripledemic’ of Covid, flu and RSV continues to rage across the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 35,000 new flu cases last week as officials warn this is the worst season since the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic.
The CDC has even cranked up its rhetoric in recent weeks, with its director Dr Rochelle Walensky telling a briefing last week ‘we also encourage you to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses’.
Nationwide, America recorded 35,704 confirmed cases of the flu during the week that ended on December 3.
This is a slight decrease from the 35,993 recorded a week earlier – the first time weekly cases have declined since the start of flu season.
The agency also reports that 25 percent of flu tests are returning positive – matching the total from the week before.
Federal officials recorded 6,253 RSV cases during the week ending on December 3. During the week ending November 26, 14,348 cases were recorded.
These surges have been blamed on an ‘immunity gap’ thought to have built up during the pandemic when Covid restrictions shut out seasonal bugs.
This means that it is likely these types of mask advisories and other pandemic related orders likely played a role in this recent surge of viral illnesses.
‘As health officers and health care leaders … we recommend that everyone wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask when around others in indoor spaces to protect against both acquiring and spreading these infections to others,’ a joint-letter from the dozen health official in Washington reads.
The Evergreen State is among 10 in the US that the CDC classifies as having the highest levels of flu activity.
It recorded 1,481 new flu infections during the week ending on December 3 – a seasonal high – and a test positivity rate of 28 percent.
Cases of the flu are starting to stagnate after rapidly rising in recent months. America is recorded 35,704 new flu infections during the week that ended on December 3, nearly matching the figure from a week earlier
RSV is starting to slow down in America, with 14,348 cases recorded during the week that ended November 26, and 6,253 cases the week that ended on December 3. Experts say that while RSV is still a danger, is is no longer at its peak and cases will continue to decline in the near future
The CDC classifies 26 states as suffering ‘very high’ flu transmission, a decrease from the 44 that received the distinction last week
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Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows just 46 percent had taken up the most recent offer by November 27, while uptake is just 23 percent for nursing home staff.
Age and underlying health conditions are two of the biggest risk factors for Covid, which made nursing homes a hotbed for the virus during the pandemic.
In another worrying sign, Covid hospitalizations among Americans over 70 have jumped by around a third in a week, and flu hospital rates are at their highest point in more than a decade.
It comes as New York City and Los Angeles officials begin urging residents to mask-up again to stop the spread of the ‘tripledemic’ of Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
The state has also confirmed 26 deaths from the flu this season, including three among children. Nearly half, 11, of the deaths occurred in the Seattle area.
Officials are also reporting 317 new cases of RSV each week. They warn that new Covid variants, like the budding BQ.1.1 strain could also soon emerge.
As of Monday, the state is recording 926 daily Covid infections, an 18 percent jump over the last two weeks. It is also suffering 18 deaths each day.
King County, the state’s most populous county which includes Seattle, is logging 257 cases and two deaths from the virus daily. These figures have remained consistent in recent weeks.
‘New COVID-19 variants are taking hold and immunity from past vaccination is waning for many people,’ Washington officials wrote.
Masks are also making a return in Los Angeles. Over the weekend, County Health Director Dr Barbara Ferrer officially asked residents to mask up in indoor public places.
‘If you’re going to an event such as a concert or a large Christmas party, there is now a higher likelihood that one or more persons at the event is infected,’ she said during a news briefing over the weekend.
‘They could unknowingly infect you, and you in turn could unknowingly infect your friends, your co-workers or your family.’
Angelinos have dodged a mask mandate, though, after Dr Ferrer said at the start of the month that face-covering requirements could return in the near future.
Like Washington, Los Angeles officials cited the rise of both the flu and RSV alongside Covid as the reason why masks would need to return.
The county does not individually report flu data. At the state level, California recorded 7,952 confirmed flu infections during the week ending on December 3.
According to the CDC, the state is suffering ‘very high’ flu transmission.
California is also suffering 1,787 RSV infections each week, according to the CDC.
It was Covid, not the flu or RSV, that had officials warning that mask orders could soon come back in the county two weeks ago, though.
‘We would be back to saying our health care system is getting stressed out, we need to slow down transmission,’ Dr Ferrer said on December 1.
Covid has ramped up in the county since. Officials are recording 3,344 new cases each day, a 52 percent jump in the last 14 days. Deaths remain low at nine per day, though.
California considers the ‘Upper Southern Region’ of the state, which includes Los Angeles, to be suffering from ‘moderate’ flu activity
New York City is recording 3,802 daily Covid infections each day, according to most recent data, a 78 percent increase over two weeks
The Big Apple is recording 16 daily Covid deaths, a figure that has remained steady in recent months
The Southern California county, which is home to nearly 10million residents, only dropped its mask order in March.
If the mandate had returned, residents would have had to wear face coverings in indoor public places like gyms, entertainment venues and on public transportation.
Los Angeles nearly brought back its mask mandate in July, when it reached high Covid transmission level for 13 days – before dropping just before it went into place.
‘We’ll have to look at the rate of increase and what we’re seeing in terms of that to decide what that time frame [to reinstate masks] would be,’ Dr Ferrer said at the time.
Covid is rapidly spreading across California. The state is averaging 11,025 new daily infections – an 85 percent jump in the past two weeks.
While the 38 daily deaths caused by the virus is low, it still represents a 48 percent two-week increase.
On the opposite coast, New York City officials issued similar guidance last week as well.
Dr Ashwin Vasan, the commissioner of NYC Health, issued an advisory Friday urging the use of face coverings in indoor public places.
‘Today [Dr Vasan] issued an advisory as NYC faces high levels of COVID-19, flu and RSV,’ NYC Health wrote in a tweet.
‘New Yorkers are strongly urged to wear masks in public indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings.’
Officials cite the triple surge in Covid, RSV and the flu striking the city for the move — with the Big Apple currently recording 3,802 daily Covid infections, a 78 percent increase over the last 14 days.
Deaths from Covid remain minimal, though, with the city averaging 16 each day. This figure has not moved much over the past two weeks.
Graph shows: Common (green tick), occasional (orange circle) and never (red cross) symptoms of the common cold, hay fever and Covid
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