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Public health officials are revisiting the topic of indoor masking, as three highly contagious respiratory viruses take hold over the holiday season.
In recent weeks, an increase in cases of COVID, influenza and the respiratory syncytial virus – known as RSV – has sickened millions of Americans, overwhelmed emergency rooms and even caused a shortage of cold medicine. The triple threat has been called “tripledemicby some health experts.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted last week that the simultaneous combination of viruses is straining healthcare systems across the country.
The map of the center that follows COVID-19 Community Levels has shown more orange recently, a color indicating a “high” infection area, Walensky told NPR’s Alisa Chang on All things Considered.
“To protect communities in these circumstances at these high levels, we have recommended and continue to recommend that these communities wear masks,” she said.
Nearly a tenth of counties in the United States are asked to wear masks indoors, according to the CDC
The latest COVID-19 community-level map from the CDC indicates that more than 9% counties across the country were considered to be at high risk of infection. The federal agency recommends people living in these areas practice indoor masking. As a general rule, children under the age of 2 are not recommended to wear a face covering.
Almost every state in the map released on Friday included at least one county with high or medium COVID-19 community levels. Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia are the only U.S. jurisdictions where all of its counties have low community levels.
You can search for your county on the CDC page here to see what the local risk level is and if masking is advised where you live.
Public health officials call for masks in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere
In Washington state, 12 county health workers and 25 hospital executives published new guidelines on Friday asking residents to practice indoor masking.
The Oregon Health Authority has also advised residents to wear face coverings in crowded indoor areas, especially to help protect children and the elderly.
“The combination of surging influenza, RSV and COVID-19 cases are pushing hospitals beyond their current capacity for intensive care beds, something that has never happened during the darkest days of the pandemic. COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist. said during a press briefing on Thursday.
Los Angeles County’s COVID community level was moved to “high” last week. On Thursday, local public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer urged residents must wear masks indoors, adding that a mask mandate could be imposed if COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
In New York, Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan on Friday informed New Yorkers should wear face coverings in stores, on public transit, schools, daycare centers and other shared public spaces, especially when crowded.