Covid masks are creeping back into American life again with hospitals, Holywood and colleges mandating their use — and there are rumors they could return on planes.
Rutgers University in New Jersey today announced face coverings will be compulsory for staff and students on its campuses, following a similar announcement by Morris Brown College in Atlanta earlier this week.
Meanwhile, a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Santa Rosa, California, and Upstate Community Hospital in Syracuse, New York, which serve millions of Americans have both brought back the rule for doctors, nurses, patients and visitors.
It comes after Lionsgate, the Hollywood studio which makes Saw and the Hunger Games, reimposed face masks in its offices in Santa Monica, California.
The reintroduction of masks is a reaction to growing concern over Covid variants BA.2.86 — which health chiefs say can infect vaccinated people — and fast-spreading strain ‘Eris’ and rising Covid cases, which appear to have doubled in a month in the US.
Meanwhile, there have been reports the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is considering reintroducing face masks on planes.
Rutgers University in New Jersey today announced face coverings will be compulsory for all staff and students (stock)
A Kaiser Permanente hospital in Santa Rosa, California, has brought back its face mask mandate. It is the second health system to do so
The above graph shows the percent of positive Covid cases (tan line) and the weekly number of new Covid hospitalizations (blue bars)
Congresswoman for Florida’s 13th district, Anna Paulina Luna, said she was looking into allegations travel Covid restrictions may return
The rumors appear to have been started by disgraced conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, but they have made their way into the upper echelons of Government.
Earlier this week Republican Congresswoman Anna Luna, from Florida, said she had written to the TSA to ask for clarification.
Ms Luna said: ‘My office will be reaching out to TSA to see what policy their whistleblowers are discussing.’
She added: ‘This will not be allowed to happen again. We have an appropriations fight coming up.’
A TSA spokeswoman told DailyMail.com: ‘That is not accurate. The rumors are false.’
They added the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was the lead federal agency on masking requirements and no TSA meeting about imposing new restrictions had taken place.
Some experts have raised concerns, however, over whether face masks are needed again.
Experts argue virtually everyone now has a level of immunity against the virus, adding there is no sign the new variants are more likely to cause severe disease.
Doctors say although they are seeing more patients, these individuals have much milder forms of the virus compared to earlier in the pandemic.
Announcing the return of face masks at its wards in Santa Rosa, Kaiser Permanente said in a statement: ‘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.’
The health system — which serves 12.7million people per year — also urged everyone to get vaccinated against the virus.
Upstate said in a memo sent to staff: ‘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.
‘Clinical areas are defined as any location patients gather, wait, transport through or receive care.’
From yesterday, the New York-based health system that serves 1.8million people a year also started testing all patients admitted to its wards for the virus.
It added, reports syracuse.com: ‘Masking is strongly recommended in all non-clinical areas.’
The hospital dropped its masking requirements in April across departments and visitor areas.
The above is the entrance to Upstate’s Community Hospital in Syracuse, New York. The healthcare facility has brought back masks for staff, patients and visitors
Morris Brown College, a private liberal arts school in Atlanta, Georgia, has also ordered staff and students to wear masks again in hallways and lecture halls.
Lionsgate, a Hollywood studio, has ordered nearly half of its employees to start wearing face masks once again. The rule is in place until further notice at their building in Santa Monica, California
Dr Stephen Thomas, the hospital’s director of global health, said: ‘We are nowhere near where we were at our busiest point, but we do have more patients now than we did a month ago.
‘Fortunately, we are well within our capacity to care for all of our patients.’
Amid concerns over rising Covid cases and more transmissible variants, there have been mounting calls for people to start wearing masks again.
But several studies have raised questions over how well some masks really work, pointing out that Covid is still able to permeate through the coverings.
Many people also wear masks incorrectly, not covering both their mouth and nose, or wear them for only short periods rather then when seated in busy locations like bars and restaurants where the risk of infection is higher.
Among those calling for masks to return is Dr Jonathan Reiner, a cardiologist in Washington DC, who told CNN Tuesday all those at high risk from a Covid infection — such as people over 65 years old — should start to mask up again.
He said 80-year-old President Joe Biden should also don a covering on the campaign trail or when in crowds, such as those in Hawaii.
‘Octogenerians comprise the highest-risk group for complications following Covid infection,’ he said.
‘At least until the numbers start to drop again, it would be appropriate for President Biden to take some precautions and wear a mask in crowds.’
Dr Eric Topol, also a cardiologist at the Scripps Translational Research Institute in California, said people should again be masking up in crowded places.
He told CNN: ‘Indoors when there’s a lot of people and it’s crowded, poor ventilation.
‘I’m still leery at this point, especially with the uptick we’re starting to see now, which I don’t know when it will plateau.’
Surveillance shows Covid infections in the US have nearly doubled in the past month amid the rise of two highly-mutated variants, official data suggests.
Hospitalizations across the US have risen for the fifth week in a row, but they are also barely a third of the levels from this time the previous year
Covid deaths remain static at present after having risen four percent in a week. They are hovering around record low levels
The test positivity rate in the US — the share of swabs that come back positive — has soared from one-in-15 in the week ending July 15 to one-in-eight by August 12, according to the latest CDC data.
It means test positivity is at its highest level in more than a year. In several states, including Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, one in six Covid swabs came back positive in the most recent week.
Hospitalization rates for Covid have also crept up for five weeks in a row — although they still remain at historic rows.
There were 12,613 admissions in which the patient tested positive for Covid in the week up to August 12, marking the fifth week in a row hospitalizations for the virus had risen and an increase of a fifth on the week prior.
But this was still barely a third of the levels recorded at the same time last year, when there were about 40,000 admissions every week.
Deaths remain static with 479 reported in the latest week data is available, July 22, compared to 484 in the previous seven-day spell.
There are particular concerns over the new Covid variant BA.2.86, which scientists say could spark a fresh wave of infections.
BA.2.86 has more than 30 mutations on its spike protein — the part the virus uses to infect people — that separate it from the currently dominant strains, which is feared make it better at escaping the immune system.
The mutant strain set off alarm bells when it was spotted last week, immediately prompting calls from some quarters for masks to return.
Other experts said its emergence was ‘reminiscent’ of when Omicron first appeared, pointing out that this strain was also quite genetically different compared to the others that were circulating at the time.
There are at least three cases in the US so far, one in an individual with a mild illness in Michigan and a second in an asymptomatic individual who recently returned from a trip to Japan. The strain has also been detected in wastewater from Ohio.
Experts fear this is just the tIp of the iceberg and many more cases are going undetected because so few infections are checked for variants.
Three cases were initially reported — two in Denmark and one in Israel — but this tally has now grown to at least nine with the US, UK, South Africa, Switzerland and Thailand added to the list.
There are also concerns over the Covid variant ‘Eris’ — dubbed EG.5 — which is currently dominant in the US.
Experts say its mutations mean the strain is also more transmissible than others although, at this point, it is not clear whether it is more transmissible than BA.2.86.
There is no evidence at this stage that either strain is more likely to cause severe disease or death.