Mask Mandates Return as COVID and Flu Cases Surge in New York City Hospitals

New York City public hospitals have implemented mask mandates as COVID-19 cases and respiratory infections continue to rise. These measures follow similar actions taken by health care facilities in multiple states across the country, according to various reports.

The mask requirement applies to 11 hospitals, 30 health centers, and five long-term care facilities within the NYC Health + Hospitals system. Dr. Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital, stressed the importance and effectiveness of masking in reducing the transmission of respiratory viral infections, including COVID-19 and influenza.

In addition to protecting patients and reducing transmission, the reinstatement of mask mandates aims to safeguard medical workers who are facing a surge in respiratory illnesses. The decision to require masks is based on factors such as the incidence of COVID-19 and influenza, the presence of immunocompromised patients, and local hospital admission levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that national hospital admissions due to COVID-19 rose by 16.7% to 29,059 in the week leading up to December 23. This marked the highest number since late January 2023. Furthermore, hospital admissions linked to influenza increased to 14,732 during the same week.

The Omicron variant JN.1 is expected to account for a significant proportion of circulating variants in the United States. According to CDC data, it is estimated to make up approximately 39% to 50% of these variants as of December 23.

As flu activity remains elevated across many areas of the country, the CDC encourages individuals to visit their website for information on when to wear or require masks. The agency also emphasizes the importance of assessing local COVID-19 hospital admission levels and an individual’s underlying risk factors for severe disease when making decisions about mask mandates.

Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, supports mask requirements in hospitals with vulnerable high-risk patients. He recommends the use of KN95 masks or better, as well as proper instruction on their use.

According to the CDC, approximately 44% of adults in the U.S. had received the flu vaccination by late December. In contrast, only an estimated 19% had received updated COVID-19 vaccinations as of early December.

It is important to note that these masking mandates are specific to patient care areas within hospitals and other health care facilities. Universal mask mandates are not supported by some medical professionals.

With the rise in COVID-19 and influenza cases, hospitals in multiple states, including New York City, are taking proactive measures to protect patients and medical workers. Mask mandates are seen as a crucial tool in reducing transmission and preventing the spread of respiratory viral infections.