Mask Mandates Are Popping Up Again Amid Latest COVID Surge—Here's Where
Pandemic precautions are being reconsidered as hospitalizations rise across the U.S.
If you threw out all your masks ages ago, it might be time to restock. While once-omnipresent mask mandates seemed like a thing of the past since the official end of the pandemic, there's been a slow resurgence as COVID numbers have skyrocketed once again. The latest COVID surge is serious enough that it's prompted hospitals and even one national park to bring mandatory masking back—at least for the time being.
The rise of the JN.1 variant has led to a major new wave of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency said that COVID activity across the country is "currently high" in a Jan. 5 update.
"COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased in recent weeks," the CDC said. "JN.1 may be intensifying the spread of COVID-19 this winter."
Despite existing protection from vaccines and prior infection, some people are still getting very sick, and that's led to a surge in hospitalizations. According to the CDC, COVID-related hospitalizations increased 20.4 percent during the week of Dec. 30. As a result, some hospitals throughout the U.S. are reinstating mask mandates.
ABC News reported on Jan. 1 that masking guidelines had been put in place in some hospitals across at least six states: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin.
John Brownstein, PhD, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital, told the news outlet that mask requirements have been reintroduced in hospitals amid this latest surge because they are full of patients who are at risk of severe illness.
"Ultimately, health systems, hospitals, places that deliver care are going to see some of the most vulnerable and at-risk individuals—many, with underlying conditions," he explained. "Those are especially the places where we want to protect individuals and so when we have this rapid rise in respiratory illness, those are going to be the first places to try to use measures to reduce chances of transmission, both to protect patients, those receiving care, as well as workforce."
But it's no longer just hospitals bringing this pandemic precaution back. A mask mandate has also just been reinstated at Sandy Hook National Park in New Jersey, Newsweek reported on Jan. 15. Under the new mandate, visitors are now required to wear a mask inside buildings at the New Jersey national park.
This requirement was put in place following an increase in COVID hospitalizations in the area, per Newsweek. According to CDC data for the week of Jan. 6, there were 250 new hospital admissions for confirmed COVID cases in both Monmouth County (where the park is located) and Ocean County (which is the neighboring county).
"We track the hospitalizations and they went to high Friday morning according to the CDC," Daphne Yun, a spokeswoman for National Park Service Gateway Recreational Area, told nj.com. "At this point, [visitors] are required to wear masks in the visitors center, and we have those ready if people don't have them."
Yun added that indoor tour participants will also be required to wear masks.