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As COVID Surges, Is It Time to Bring Back Mask Mandates?

May 26, 2022

Don’t pack those face masks and gaiters away with your winter sweaters; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is again urging people in areas of the country where COVID-19 infection is surging to put them on indoors. The CDC is recommending that local governments should encourage residents to resume mask wearing when indoors to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus further. Some think a recommendation is not strong enough. “Mask mandates should be reinstated but it is political poison to do so,” said Ulysses Wu, MD, chief epidemiologist and system director for infectious diseases with Hartford HealthCare. The Northeast, including Connecticut and New York, is one of the hardest hit regions and falls under “high” and “medium” risk. Half of Connecticut falls into each risk category – it has a 12.3 percent positivity rate in the last week, and hospitalizations are once again on the rise. In areas where the risk of spread is medium – including nearby Rhode Island and vacation areas like Maine and New Hampshire - the CDC recommends that people consider preventative measures like masking, increased testing and avoiding crowds, based on their personal risk. Cases nationwide increased 26 percent to 94,000 cases a day in the last week, and three-fold in the last month, according to the CDC report. The average hospitalization rate is up about 19 percent in the last week. Driving the increase is the fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, which each account for almost 50 percent of the cases recorded nationwide. Because they are more infectious than other variants, Dr. Wu suggested employing all measures to avoid infection. “Everyone should test before they go into a situation where they may be in close contact with others,” he said. In all, about one third of people living in the United States are in an area with high rates of COVID-19 infection, although deaths and hospitalizations remain lower than with earlier waves.