8 Places Bringing Back Mask Mandates Right Now
An uptick in COVID cases has prompted a return to old mitigation measures.
For a period of time, it felt like we were out of the woods with the COVID-19 pandemic, redirecting our attention to other concerning outbreaks. Many of us celebrated the lifting of mask mandates and the elusive "return to normalcy" when the Public Health Emergency (PHE) ended in May, but unfortunately, ending the PHE didn't mean that COVID disappeared for good. Now, case numbers and hospitalizations are ticking up yet again: According to data updated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday, Sept. 5, hospitalizations in the U.S. increased by 15.7 percent, from 15,050 to 17,418, between Aug. 19 and Aug. 26.
Medical professionals have expressed concerns about new COVID variants—and while experts can't say for sure how much they will drive up infection rates, there are worries about current vaccines' effectiveness "in terms of reducing both spread and severity of the illness," Stephanie Silvera, PhD, epidemiologist and professor of public health at Montclair State University, told Fox 5 NY.
The CDC hasn't announced any new mask mandates—and hospital admission rates are far from where they were at the height of the pandemic—but some entities are taking it upon themselves to reintroduce masking policies as a safeguard. As Robert Wachter, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, told CNN late last month, "If you're trying to be careful, it's time to whip out the mask again."
Silvera also addressed those who may not be quick to pick up their old masks or invest in a new N95, telling Fox 5, "In thinking about what the next step in terms of public health and how to prevent further spread, unfortunately, masking is something we need to consider even though most people don't want to."
Regardless of where you stand on the mask debate, you'll now be required to wear them—and follow other COVID-related protocols—in certain places. Read on to find out where people are being required to mask up again.
Rosemary Hills Elementary School (Silver Spring, Maryland)
An elementary school in Maryland reintroduced masks this week, the principal announced in a Sept. 5 letter, posted on X by OutKick founder Clay Travis.
Rebecca Irwin Kennedy, principal of Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, wrote to the parents of a specific classroom (which is blurred out), noting that "3 or more individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 10 days."
Kennedy stated that students and staff "will be required to mask in school for the next 10 days, except while eating or drinking," and that KN95 masks had been distributed. The school also sent rapid tests home and asked that any positive results be reported to the school. Kennedy noted that after the 10-day period, masks will be optional again.
In an email to Fox News, Christopher Cram, spokesperson for Montgomery County Public Schools, said this requirement only affects one classroom of students and expires on Sept. 11 (a shortened length of time than what Kennedy originally stated).
"Our practice of recommending or requiring masking during confirmed outbreaks is the same as last year, and is in the reopening guide, mentioned in the back to school letter, and on our COVID website," Cram told the outlet. "We followed this process last year and found it useful during COVID outbreak winter season in preventing local spread."
The reintroduction of masks, specifically for children, sparked outrage. Many took to social media to voice their opinions, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who shared a photo of the letter on X and wrote that the same situation is "not going to happen in Texas."
(According to a law that went into effect Sept. 1, local governments in Texas cannot require COVID-related masks, vaccines, or business shutdowns, the Texas Tribune reported.)
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders also posted on X, promising residents that "as long as I'm Governor, Arkansas will not force our kids to wear masks in school."
Dillard University (New Orleans)
According to an Aug. 25 post on its COVID-19 information page, Dillard University in New Orleans brought masks back.
"As you are aware, COVID-19 cases are on the rise across the nation and we are seeing elevated numbers of reported infections in the Dillard community as students return to campus from across the country," the university wrote. "We want everyone to be aware of the steps being taken on our campus to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."
The mandate went into effect on Aug. 25, requiring all students, faculty, staff, and visitors to wear masks inside. Per the announcement, the policy is in place for two weeks "while we assess the trends on our campuses," meaning it would be set to expire tomorrow, Sept. 8.
Kinterbish Junior High School (Cuba, Alabama)
As of Aug. 21, Kinterbish Junior High School in Alabama reintroduced masking.
"Due to the slow raise of Covid cases in the area, students, employees, and visitors are asked to wear facial masks starting Tuesday, August 22, 2023. Thank you!" a post on the school's Facebook page reads.
The school did not include an end date for the policy, but as Newsweek reported, Facebook posts from Sept. 3 show both students and teachers donning masks.
Auburn Community Hospital (Auburn, New York)
Auburn Community Hospital in Auburn, New York, recently brought masks back, per an update to its visiting hours page.
"Face coverings are mandatory inside our facilities, regardless of your immunization status," the page reads. "If you do not arrive with one or yours is deemed inappropriate, a mask will be provided to you. It must be worn at all times and must cover your nose and mouth."
According to LocalSYR.com, the change was made only a month after the hospital did away with its COVID-era masking policy, which ended July 18.
United Health Services (New York)
Other healthcare facilities in New York, which are part of United Health Services (UHS), have reinstated mask policies as well.
In an Aug. 23 policy update on its website, United Health Services (UHS) wrote, "Because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases, masks are once again required in all clinical areas at UHS Wilson Medical Center, UHS Binghamton General Hospital, UHS Chenango Memorial Hospital and UHS Delaware Valley Hospital, as well as primary and specialty care sites."
The policy applies to all patients, visitors, medical staff, volunteers, students, and vendors, per the new policy.
"Masks are required at nurses' stations and in conference rooms within clinical departments, including areas where patients register, wait, transport through, or receive testing and care," the page reads, noting that it also applies to common spaces where patients are encountered, but it's optional "in non-clinical areas where there is no patient-facing contact."
UHS stated that these rules are subject to change.
"As always, protocols can change based on regional data related to COVID: The System Leadership Team, in conjunction with the Infection Prevention and Control Department, will continue to monitor trends and make necessary changes in policies, practices and guidance, based on the monitoring of regional COVID-19 data," the policy reads.
UMass Memorial Health (Worcester, Massachusetts)
UMass Memorial Health in Worcester, Massachusetts, is bringing back masks to specific areas, according to an Aug. 24 update on its page outlining visitation rules.
"Due to an increase in COVID-19 infections, all Medical Center caregivers are now required to wear masks in all patient encounters in licensed clinical areas," the update reads.
In a memo sent to staff obtained by CBS News Boston, UMass Memorial added, "We have continued to see a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 positive employees over the past two weeks, which has led to exposures of both fellow caregivers and patients," calling the masking policy a "protective measure for our staff and patients."
The hospital may expand this policy to anyone who enters the hospital if the trend continues, per CBS News, and it will reevaluate the policy four weeks from the Aug. 24 date.
The hospital memo continued, "Please know that these changes are not made lightly and we know how that a return to masking may be upsetting for some of our caregivers."
Kaiser Permanente Hospital (Santa Rosa, California)
According to The Press Democrat, due to a spike in COVID-19 infections in the local area, Kaiser Permanente hospital in Santa Rosa, California, reintroduced masks. The policy applies to staff, patients, and visitors.
"To ensure that we are helping protect the health and safety of our patients, our workforce and our community, we have reintroduced a mask mandate for physicians, staff, patients, members, and visitors in the hospital and medical offices in the Santa Rosa Service Area," a statement from the company reads, per The Press Democrat.
In a recent statement to Newsweek, the outlet again stressed its commitment to protecting the community and residents, "which includes taking appropriate steps to prevent the spread of transmissible infectious diseases in our facilities."
Kaiser Permanente continue, "Respiratory protection and the use of masking is an important component in keeping our health care workers, physicians and patients safe."
The hospital also asked the public to get the "anticipated COVID-19 vaccine" when it's available.
Upstate Medical (Syracuse, New York)
According to Syracuse.com, Upstate Medical in Syracuse, New York, introduced mandatory masking once again at both of its hospitals.
"Effective immediately, mandatory masking is required by all staff, visitors, and patients in clinical areas of Upstate University Hospital, Upstate Community Hospital, and ambulatory clinical spaces," a memo sent to staff and obtained by Syracuse.com reads. "Clinical areas are defined as any location patients gather, wait, transport through, or receive care. Masking is strongly recommended in all non-clinical areas."
Stephen Thomas, director of global health for Upstate, told the outlet that while the numbers are always changing, they noticed "an upward trend of Covid associated hospitalizations in our community."
He continued, "We are nowhere near where we were at our busiest point but we have more patients now than we did a month ago. Fortunately, we are well within our capacity to care for all of our patients."
Syracuse.com reported that the hospital is reviewing its policy again in three weeks.
Some mandates have already lifted (or never started).
Contrary to reports by several news outlets, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is not among those reintroducing a mask mandate. As Rutgers spokesperson Dory Devlin told Patch, Rutgers stopped requiring masks in both classrooms and dorms as of Oct. 2022, and that policy hasn't changed.
Masks continue to be required around "vulnerable" patients at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, which is part of the university.
Movie studio Lionsgate did enact a mandatory mask mandate on certain floors of its Santa Monica, California, office building last month, according to an email sent to staff and obtained by Deadline. The policy was reportedly introduced after several employees tested positive for COVID, but has since been lifted, per an update from Deadline.
Morris Brown College, a liberal arts school in Atlanta, Georgia, also brought back masks, per an Aug. 20 post on the school's official Instagram. The policy was in place for a 14-day period and has also been lifted, college president Kevin James, EdD, told Newsweek.
And for those concerned about traveling with a mask, don't worry just yet. Speaking with the Associated Press (AP), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) debunked rumors that managers were told masks would be required for staff in September, and for travelers by mid-October.
The TSA made no such statement to managers, a spokesperson told the outlet, while a CDC spokesperson added that rumors about the return of the travel mask mandate are "utterly false."