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Covid-19: Some US states and hospitals recommend masks again

BMJ 2024; 384 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.q26 (Published 05 January 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;384:q26
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. New York

US hospitals and medical centres in some US states have reintroduced requirements to wear facemasks amid a rise in cases of covid-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in late December.1

At least six states and several hospital systems decided to resume requirements for mask wearing among staff and patients. California, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington state have published guidelines requiring indoor masking.2

New York City’s 11 public hospitals have required staff to mask in areas where patients are being treated. The regulation also applies to all health clinics, nursing homes, and long term care facilities run by New York City’s Health + Hospitals Corporation.3

New York City health commissioner Ashwin Vasan said the reason for the change in policy was to protect staff and patients. “We don’t want staffing shortages. When we saw the omicron wave in 2022, the biggest problems were not only people getting sick, but that we had a lot of health workers out with covid,” he said.

Mass General Brigham and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, said they would require masks for patients and staff. MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, DC; Cook County Health in Chicago; the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics; and Los Angeles County Public Health and several other hospitals in California also made this stipulation.

In its most recent report on 23 December, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that early indicators of covid-19 infections had risen—test positivity was up 0.7% and emergency department visits diagnosed as covid-19 were up 12%. More severe indicators also increased—hospital admissions in recent weeks increased 16.7% and deaths because of covid-19 increased 10%. Wastewater data also showed a surge in the pandemic.

The increase in covid-19 infections was attributed to spread of the new variant, JN.1. It is not thought to cause more severe disease and current vaccines should protect against it.

Although this is the first season where vaccines are available to protect against all three viruses—covid-19, flu, and RSV—uptake of vaccines has been disappointingly low, experts said.

While older adults are at higher risk for infection, few had had the recommended injections, the New York Times reported. Only 19% of adults had had the latest covid-19 vaccine and 44% had had the annual flu vaccination. About 17% of adults 60 and older had received the RSV vaccine. Even among those 75 and older, only about one third had received the latest immunisation.4

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