Only 6 States Have Indoor Masking Rules in Place as COVID Cases Climb

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Courtesy of Mecklenburg County (Flickr CC0)

Only Illinois, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico, and Washington continue to mandate indoor mask-wearing in public places whether or not people are fully vaccinated. So why is it only six states still have indoor masking requirements when COVID-19 infections are spiking nationally?

An unwelcome but not entirely surprising trend emerged in the United States as coronavirus cases are increasing. The country’s 7-day daily average saw an 18% spike in new patients, just under 93,000, as of Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, according to numbers presented during a White House COVID-19  Response Team briefing. The U.S. is also experiencing an increase in hospitalizations by 6%, or about 5,600 new patients admitted daily.

At least 24 states have seen a rise of at least 5% increase in new COVID-19 infections during the past two weeks. For example, new Mexico, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Michigan have recorded more than 60% per capita spikes. Additionally, steep increases in cases are also seen in highly vaccinated states such as Vermont and Massachusetts.

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Courtesy of Cathy Milne-Ware (Flickr CC0)

Spectrum Health in Michigan is currently experiencing COVID-19 patients packing their emergency rooms, primarily unvaccinated. By the end of the last week, the state’s 7-day average of new cases hit their pandemic high.

So on Thanksgiving, officials found the need to reset their healthcare system to the most severe tier for the first time since the pandemic’s onset as the state emerged as a new COVID hotspot.

Based on the increasing caseload across the United States, health experts speculate this winter will see the fifth COVID surge. Although, this one could be milder than last winter because of vaccines and boosters.

However, Dr. Gypsyamber (Amber) D’Souza, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, believes the surge is probable. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Dr. D’Souza reminds everyone that as the weather gets colder and people are in more places indoors, they are in closer proximity to people, which aids in the infection spreading.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President of United States, predicts the coronavirus would be cyclical, meaning every fall and winter, COVID-19 will spike much like yearly influenza.

COVID-19 Positivity Rates

In the United States, COVID-19 positivity rates range from 1.4 to 51.6%, as of Nov. 24, 2021. Of the six still asking its residents to mask up, Hawaii reported 52 new cases or 2.2% of those tested, Illinois had 4,589 new infections or 3.3%, and Oregon reported 844 new cases or 4.7%. Nevada had 580 new infections or 7.6%, Washington reported 1.037 new cases or 9.2%, and New Mexico had 1,164 new infections or 9.5%. Only two states and Washington D.C. report fewer new COVID infections than Hawaii, whereas 22 states had significantly increased percentages over New Mexico.

Three states have indoor rules for unvaccinated individuals, California, Connecticut, and New York. While Oregon dropped its outdoor face-covering rule a couple of days ago, Washington is the only state that continues to enforce masking rules for outdoor events attended by 500 or more.

While Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has not announced the state would be rolling back its masking rule, he will likely not. Of primary concern is the geographic proximity to Michigan and Minnesota, where there are no masking rules and significant increases in COVID infections.

Dr. Allison Arwady, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) commissioner, said the city’s infection rate would need to drop to fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases before the masking mandate would be changed. However, Chicago saw more than double that number in the past few weeks.

Staying COVID-19 Free Requires Personal Commitment

Everyone in the United States ages 5 and older is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. They are free to everyone regardless of immigration or insurance status. The Centers for Prevention and Disease Control “(CDC) continues to encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves, their families, loved ones, and communities. We also strongly encourage those who were already eligible ­– older populations and individuals with underlying medical conditions ­– to get boosted before the holidays,” according to a recent update on the agency’s website.

Moreover, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., expanded recommendations for booster shots. Every adult, 18 years and older, who was vaccinated at least six months ago with either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna during their primary 2-shot series, should have a booster.

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Courtesy of Cathy Milne-Ware (Flickr CC0)

Health experts remind everyone of the importance of staying up to date on all required vaccinations. The yearly influenza vaccine is available for everyone 6 months of age and older. It is safe to have both the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations simultaneously.

While most states have relaxed, if not eliminated indoor masking rules, the CDC continues to recommend everyone 2 years or older who is not fully vaccinated should wear one while in public venues.

They further suggest those who have had a 2-dose Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech or the single shot of the J&J Jannsen vaccine should consider wearing a mask in situations where close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated cannot be avoided or their COVID vaccination status is unknown. This extends to areas where the rate of new infections is elevated.

The CDC advises anyone with a medical condition or is taking medications that weaken their immune system to wear a mask as they may not be fully protected even if fully vaccinated.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

Becker’s Hospital Review: States ranked by COVID-19 test positivity rates: Nov. 24; by Erica Carbajal
NBC News 5 Chicago: Why is Illinois 1 of 6 Remaining States With a Mask Mandate? Here’s What One Doctor Says
The Washington Post: A flood of covid patients causes’ almost unmanageable’ strain in Michigan as cases rise nationwide; by Brittany Shammas and Paulina Firozi
AARP: State-by-State Guide to Face Mask Requirements; by Andy Markowitz
Mayo Clinic: U.S. COVID-19 map: What do the trends mean for you?

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Mecklenburg County’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Images Courtesy of Cathy Milne-Ware’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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