WASHINGTON (TND) — A wave of flu, RSV and COVID-19 cases is prompting some health officials to start calling for Americans to take up masking again after much of the public moved on from virus prevention measures.
The onset of three respiratory viruses has been swift and fierce this fall and into the holiday season, again prompting concerns about overwhelming the nation’s hospital system. Children’s hospitals have neared capacity and school districts in various parts of the country have had to close some days as an influx of RSV and flu cases sickened students.
An increase in the respiratory viruses has also created a shortage of over-the-counter Tylenol and other drugs commonly used to treat symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving gatherings and cooler weather that is keeping people inside and increasing the chances to spread the disease.
The CDC’s latest virus report found 9% of U.S. counties have a high transmission level of COVID-19 and 35% are at a medium level. CDC guidance on areas with a high level recommends wearing a mask indoors.
In Oregon, where the state’s health department said hospitals are reaching levels of crisis not even seen during the pandemic, doctors are pleading with people to wear a mask.
“Masking works,” said Dr. Wendy Hasson medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Oregon. “Anytime you have to go to an indoor crowded area during this surge, if you and your child can wear a mask, that will help protect the (health care) resources.”
Other localities like New York and Los Angeles, along with Washington state, have issued guidance encouraging people to wear masks in crowded public settings like stores, schools and public transit. Los Angeles County’s public health director said a mask mandate could be imposed again if COVID cases and hospitalizations continue their upward swing.
“As a physician, scientist, to me, it's a no-brainer,” said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a pediatric infectious disease doctor and professor at the University of Minnesota. “I feel like I have an ethical obligation to encourage this for my patients and colleagues. Anything else would be ethically unacceptable I stand by the idea that selective masking in high-risk settings coupled with immunization, particularly in the midst of this sort of triple threat of these viruses that are circulating is important.”
U.S. health officials have said this year’s flu shot is a good match to the dominant strain and is the best way to fend off severe illness and hospitalization. But flu season hit the U.S. earlier and harder than it has in recent years after slowing down during the pandemic.
Many Americans were ready to shed masks and other preventative measures from the pandemic after it altered daily life around the world, creating a difficult situation for public health leaders and elected officials considering enacting new orders to counteract the surge in respiratory illnesses.
Health agencies across the country and the federal government have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and receive a flu shot heading into the fall and holiday season. So far, those efforts have not done well in getting people to roll up their sleeves.
CDC data shows flu vaccine uptake among adults is lower than last year, which is coupled with waning rates of Americans getting the updated COVID booster. Smaller rates of Americans have received a COVID shot with every round of booster being approved.
“At the end of the day, what could be more patriotic? What could be more American than the idea that our scientists lead? We should lead the world,” Schleiss said. “I mean, we should be at the forefront of new technologies and new approaches help solve and prevent diseases.”