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Some hospitals impose mask mandates as respiratory illnesses increase

RSV, COVID-19 and flu cases increasing rapidly nationwide, but vaccine rate low

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A COVID-19 vaccine is drawn at Salt Lake County Health Center in Salt Lake City on Oct. 4, 2023.

A COVID-19 vaccine is drawn at Salt Lake County Health Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. As RSV, COVID-19 and flu cases increase nationwide, vaccine uptake remains low. officials say.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Masking could be making a comeback.

More than half of the United States is reporting high or very high levels of respiratory infections right now, including COVID-19, RSV and flu. Six states have brought back mask mandates. And experts are warning that respiratory infections are likely to increase in the coming days.

KAAL TV in Rochester, Minnesota, reported that influenza diagnoses rose 20% last week and 4,500 people died from flu nationwide. Meanwhile, more people are hospitalized across the country with COVID-19 than at any point in the past year.

The six states bringing back masking so far are California, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin. A spokesman for Mass General Brigham, the biggest health system in Massachusetts, told ABC News that employee caregivers and those working in patient care areas are required to wear masks.

Per ABC, “Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor, said hospitals are full of patients and staff at risk of severe illness, which is why mask guidelines have been reintroduced as cases rise.”

CNN notes that “tens of thousands of people have been admitted to hospitals for respiratory illness each week this season,” including more than 29,000 with COVID-19, 15,000 with flu and thousands with respiratory syncytial virus, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s a triple threat, and arguably a fourth threat because we also have pneumococcal pneumonia, which complicates a lot of these virus infections,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN. “Remember, all of these numbers are before people got together for the holidays. So don’t be disappointed or surprised that we even see a bigger bump as we head into January.”

Protecting yourself and others

For the first time, there are vaccines available for all three of the major viruses now sweeping across the country. And public health experts say that’s a powerful defense against the circulating viruses.

But the CDC said uptake has so far been low, with just 19% of adults and 8% of children receiving the most recent COVID-19 vaccine, which more closely targets what’s circulating compared to earlier versions. Just 17% of adults 60 and older have received the just-approved RSV vaccine. And fewer than half of adults and children have been vaccinated against flu this year.

Besides getting appropriate vaccines, health experts from the CDC and Mayo Clinic offer these suggestions to stay healthy:

  • Stay away from those who are sick.
  • Avoid crowded areas and consider wearing a mask if you have to be in busy indoor spaces.
  • Improve ventilation and filtration by bringing outdoor air in as much as possible.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, which are doorways for respiratory illness to infect you.
  • Move indoor activities outdoors when possible.
  • Washing hands frequently.
  • If you have symptoms, stay home, get tested and seek treatment.
  • If you do get sick, wear a mask to protect others.