01.03.2024

Atlanta college brings back Covid mask mandates

Calls for Covid face masks to return are ramping up amid increasing virus rates and the rise of a highly-mutated new variant. An Atlanta college has become the first since the government declared the pandemic over to mandate masks for students and staff just days after classes began.

Morris Brown College, a private liberal arts school, is requiring students and employees to wear face masks in hallways and lecture halls for two weeks due to ‘reports of positive cases among students.’

Officials have also told students to maintain social distancing and banned all parties and large student gatherings for two weeks.

Meanwhile, in an editorial published by the American College of Physicians (ACP), Government doctors and public health experts in Seattle have called for face coverings to be made compulsory in all healthcare facilities once more.

They argue that hospital patients are at a higher risk of dying from or being seriously ill with Covid and would benefit from the ‘reduce[d] risk for Covid contracted in the hospital among patients and health care workers.’

A staff member offers a face mask to a man at Chinese Hospital in San Francisco, back in August 2021 during the pandemic

A staff member offers a face mask to a man at Chinese Hospital in San Francisco, back in August 2021 during the pandemic

People wearing masks wait to enter the Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, in July 2020

People wearing masks wait to enter the Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, in July 2020

Hospitalizations from Covid are tracking upwards in the US, having risen by about 14 percent in a week to 10,300 admissions every seven days

Hospitalizations from Covid are tracking upwards in the US, having risen by about 14 percent in a week to 10,300 admissions every seven days

Morris Brown College in Atlanta became the first since the government declared the pandemic was over to mandate masks for students and staff just a week after classes began

The 10 experts — from Seattle & King County health department and the University of Washington — said we should ‘find ways to adapt to this new reality’ rather than ‘accepting unnecessary risks to patient and provider health.’

Talk of masking up in public has been gaining traction after the CDC said it was monitoring new Covid variant BA.2.86.

Numbers of Covid cases in Georgia have increased for three weeks in a row, but overall, the number of infections and hospitalizations remains low.

Meanwhile, the academic paper was likely written before the new variants came to light, and before Covid hospitalization rates started rising in the US.

Earlier today, a former FDA boss said he is ‘pretty concerned’ the variant known as BA.X, BA.2.86 or Pirola, which is ‘highly mutated’ and therefore likely to be better at escaping the immune systems of vaccinated or previously infected people.

Dr Scott Gottlieb acknowledged there is no evidence the variant is deadlier than older versions of the virus, but Covid fatalities in the US have already started to creep up, though they remain at near historic lows.

Hospitalizations and fatalities are now rising in the US, however, although these are coming up from historic lows and still well below this time last year.

In the article published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the ACP’s academic medical journal, said there is ‘rationale to integrate precautions’, including ‘the ongoing disease burden among persons at highest risk for severe Covid-19, the large proportion of transmission from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases, uncertainty about the future course of the pandemic, and the effects of post–Covid-19 conditions.’

Statements expressed in the journal do not necessarily reflect the views of the ACP.

The researchers recognized that Covid cases have dropped dramatically since the pandemic due to vaccines, antivirals and increased community immunity, but said that ‘severe outcomes’ are still occurring due to the virus.

They argued that patients in hospitals are far more vulnerable due to age and underlying conditions.

The authors added: ‘If we accept the benefits of increased mask wearing in clinical settings, we should find ways to adapt to this new reality rather than accepting unnecessary risks to patient and provider health.

‘Perhaps rather than removing masks to improve rapport building and enhance perceived empathy, we could find ways to improve masked communication.’

Patients should also be allowed to ‘request that their providers wear a mask when they believe it is appropriate,’ the commentary said.

The authors said the masking could take different approaches, such as across healthcare settings in targeted settings like transplant, oncology, and geriatric units, where risk is highest for patients, but noted this is a ‘less desirable’ option.

It could also be done in certain months of the year when the respiratory season is highest, depending on where the hospital is in the US, or when the burden of respiratory viruses on the community reaches a level deemed too high.

They reference Washington State — where healthcare organizations decided to extend universal masking in patient spaces, with individual facilities ‘given the flexibility to tailor policies to their own unique spaces.’

When Biden ended the Covid national emergency, the Covid measures were meant to have been dropped for good.

But some UK scientists — known for making gloomy predictions earlier in the pandemic — are so concerned about the new Covid variants they have advised people to mask up again.

Masks have long been a controversial Covid strategy due to the lack of hard evidence that they are effective.

One of the most comprehensive meta-analyses of face coverings found that masks made ‘little to no difference’ to Covid infection or death rates in community settings.

The debate around masks first turned sour in 2020 when health officials flip-flopped on their effectiveness.

Then-NIAID director Dr Anthony Fauci said in 2020 that masks were ‘not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is.’

He later suggested people should wear masks as a mark of ‘respect’ for others. He admitted to lying to the public about masks’ effectiveness to prevent panic buying and preserve masks for healthcare workers.

The agency still recommends Americans wear masks in places with high transmission levels, such as on public transport.

Critics of masks claim they have hindered communication and children’s development and progress at school.

Rises in RSV and flu in the winter were partly attributed to face-covering mandates because they prevented children from gaining natural immunity to other illnesses.

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