Topline

Mask mandates have been reinstated in healthcare systems across several U.S. states as cases and hospitalizations of respiratory illnesses—including Covid, the flu and RSV–continue to increase nationwide.

Key Facts

Illinois: After the Illinois Department of Public Health recommended masks in healthcare facilities and advised these facilities to “step up” their efforts in December, several hospital systems like Cook County Health—which includes Chicago—and Endeavor Health began requiring masks, and Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center announced Tuesday it will require all visitors, patients and staff to wear masks in some areas on campus like hospital waiting rooms.

Massachusetts: Berkshire Health System in Massachusetts announced it would begin requiring masks in its facilities starting Wednesday due to “significant levels” of respiratory illnesses; almost 17% of the 65,956 emergency room visits in the state were related to respiratory illnesses between Dec. 17, 2023 and Dec. 23, 2023.

New York: New York City reinstated a mask mandate in all of its 11 public hospitals, 30 health centers and five long-term care facilities, New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan told local news outlet WABC TV on Wednesday.

California: Los Angeles County—which requires masking in healthcare settings when the county reaches the medium level for Covid hospitalizations (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as between 10-19.9 new COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 over seven days)—reinstated the mandate last month when it hit that level.

Key Background

A spike in the “tripledemic”—a simultaneous rise in Covid, flu and RSV cases—has been fueling a rise in hospitalizations. There were 29,095 Covid-related hospitalizations reported in the U.S. during the week ending in Dec. 23, 2023, according to CDC data. This is up 16.7% from the previous week. There were 10,923 RSV cases and a 6.1% increase in flu cases during the same period.

Tangent

New Covid variant JN.1 has been driving an increase in Covid cases across the country as it made up 44.2% of all cases the week of Dec. 23, 2023. The variant was classified as a “variant of interest”—meaning it’s spreading in a way that may pose “an emerging risk to global public health”—by the World Health Organization in December 2023. JN.1 is an offspring of the highly mutated Pirola (BA.2.86) virus that some experts worried wouldn’t be protected against the updated monovalent Covid boosters, which specifically target XBB variants. However, vaccine makers ensured their shots provided some protection. Because of how rapidly it spread, WHO said JN.1 made up the majority of all BA,2.86 subvariants circulating globally, though available evidence suggested it posed a low risk to public health. The CDC also noted JN.1’s stark growth, stating it was the “fastest growing variant in the United States.”

Further Reading

JN.1 Covid ‘Variant Of Interest’ Spreading Fast In U.S. — Here’s What To Know (Forbes)

What To Know About Rapidly Spreading ‘Pirola’ Covid Variant BA.2.86—And If Vaccines Offer Protection (Forbes)

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