Delta COVID Surge Fuels Renewed Calls for Mask Mandates in NYC, Elsewhere – NBC New York

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What to Know

  • NYC’s rolling new case average is up more than 64% the past seven days over the weekly average for the previous four weeks; delta has become the dominant strain and is fueling the latest spread
  • The trend is similar at the national level, where cases of COVID-19 last week increased by 17,000 nationwide over a 14-day period for the first time since late fall
  • Los Angeles became the nation’s most populous county to reinstate indoor mask mandates over the weekend because of the spread. Some in other major cities, including New York, have called for the same

Everyone older than age 2 should wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, when schools reopen in the fall, according to updated guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics released Monday.

The leading national pediatrician group said it recommends universal masking because so much of the student population isn’t yet eligible for vaccination. It’s not clear how quickly that will change, or how likely parents will be to get their younger children dosed when the federal government approves shots for kids under 12.

Research consistently shows opening schools in person doesn’t generally increase community COVID transmission when masks and other protocol are employed, AAP says, and the emergence of more contagious variants, some of which are linked to more severe outcomes, poses a particular threat to people who aren’t vaccinated.

“There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated,” said Sara Bode, MD, FAAP, chair-person elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee. “This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well.

“It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status,” Bode added.

As the “hypertransmissable” Delta variant surges in communities across the U.S., CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky issued a stark warning to those who remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus, saying, “Our biggest concern is that we’re going to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated.”

The updated guidance from the leading pediatric professional group comes as the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant in under-vaccinated neighborhoods threatens to undercut the nation’s — and New York City’s — pandemic progress.

Calls have grown in the last few weeks for elected officials to reinstate indoor mask mandates to shield the millions of Americans who haven’t yet been immunized.

For more than a month straight, New York had reported sustained declines in new COVID infections as well as fewer hospitalizations and deaths, but lately, new daily case counts have surged past 1,000, up significantly from the roughly 300 to 400 new cases a day that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was reporting just a month ago.

In New York City, the rolling new case average is up more than 64% over the weekly average the four weeks prior as of Monday — a jarring increase fueled by the delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in the five boroughs and nationwide.

Asked about the masks in schools issue as recently as Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the expectation at this point was for the mandate to remain in public schools throughout the city. The CDC still recommends the same, though de Blasio says that may very well change by September. If it does, he’ll reevaluate.

Some New York City neighborhoods are experiencing a marked increase in new COVID-19 cases and health officials say low vaccination rates and more transmissible variants like delta are to blame. Tracie Strahan reports.

Beyond the classroom, de Blasio has hedged when asked whether mask rules should be more fully reinstated, including for vaccinated adults. On Sunday, he said there’s no plan to do so “at this point,” but stresses city officials are closely monitoring the situation and are prepared to pivot viral strategy as needed.

“A mask doesn’t arrest the progress of the variant,” de Blasio said Monday. “Vaccination does. We’re going to go where the real impact is, bottom line.”

The mayor, like others, says the latest case increases are by and large among non-immunized people. He also points to sustained declines in new hospitalization and death rates as a testament to the power of vaccination to curtail worse outcomes associated with the respiratory disease that first emerged in Wuhan in 2019.

To date, nearly 65% of New York City adults are fully vaccinated, while more than 70% have received at least one dose. Statewide, those numbers are 67.3% and 74.%, respectively, though immunization rates decline extensively by age.

According to the latest data, about 31% of kids age 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated, compared with 48.9% and 54.2% of the next two older age cohorts, which respectively cover people age 16 to 25 and 26 to 34. Students in Grade 6 and younger aren’t even eligible for shots yet and it’s yet clear when they will be.

Case trends are similar at the national level, where cases of COVID-19 last week increased by 17,000 nationwide over a 14-day period for the first time since late fall. An increase in hospitalization and death historically follows a spike in illness.

U.S. Surgeon General Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has said it would be appropriate for local governments to reinstate mask mandates while former surgeon general Dr. Jerome Adams took a more urgent tone on Sunday. He called easing mask guidelines “premature” and “harmful’ in the face of the delta variant’s spread and urged everyone to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Masks are still required for vaccinated people in certain scenarios, including on mass transit, in airports, in schools and other places deemed to be higher risk. But that rule has been lifted for vaccinated people in the vast majority of cases.

Los Angeles became the nation’s most populous county to reinstate indoor mask mandates over the weekend because of the spread. Some in other major cities, including New York, have called for the same.

While U.S. case numbers and hospitalizations are still far below levels from the worst of the pandemic early this year, Murthy said the worsening situation shows the need to convince more people to get inoculations.

“It is our fastest, most effective way out of this pandemic,” he said.

About 186 million Americans have received at least one shot to date, but another 90 million eligible Americans haven’t. Officials are trying to overcome hesitancy or outright refusal among some — particularly conservative, rural white people — to get vaccinated, but it’s unclear how to do that successfully. So, as an interim stopgap, some places have reverted to health precautions that had been cast aside.

In a White House briefing on Thursday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy shared his new advisory on the dangers of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, four of New York’s mass vaccination sites are set to close on Monday as the state plans to redistribute resources into more localized operations. The sites at The Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls, Plattsburgh International Airport, SUNY Polytechnic Institute – Utica, and Jones Beach will close.

Cuomo has cited decreasing demand and “milestone” achievements in vaccinations for shuttering the mass vaccination sites.

Gov. Phil Murphy has done the same regarding mass vaccination sites in New Jersey, where new daily case totals are also seeing a significant increase in the last few weeks despite relatively stable hospitalization and death rates.

New Jersey’s daily case numbers are up more than 100% in the last 14 days, according to New York Times data. As appears to be the case in New York and elsewhere across the country, the delta variant seems to be fueling the spread.

That strain is the most dominant one in the Garden State. Health department data shows it accounts for 40.7% of samples sequenced in the last four weeks, up from 26.8% a week ago and 7.3% two weeks before that. Nearly all of the new and severe cases are among people who aren’t vaccinated, Murphy has said.

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