By STEVE LeBLANC and MIKE CATALINI – Associated Press
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — U.S. COVID-19 cases have surged, prompting some school districts, particularly in the Northeast, to bring back mask mandates and recommendations for the first time since the end of the Omicron winter surge and as the country nears 1 million deaths in the pandemic.
The return of masking in schools is not nearly as widespread as it was at the start of the pandemic, especially as public concerns about the virus have eased. But districts in Maine, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have brought masks back, and some in Massachusetts are also recommending them even as the school year enters its final few weeks.
Maine’s largest school district in Portland said masks would return this week, with Superintendent Xavier Botana saying it was the “safest course at this point” amid rising cases. Schools in Bangor, Maine also brought back a universal mask requirement.
High schools in the Pittsburgh suburbs and in Montclair, New Jersey, a commuter suburb of New York City, also announced a return to masking, albeit temporarily until this week. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the counties in the country thought to have “high” levels of COVID-19 are in the Northeast.
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In parts of Massachusetts where COVID-19 has been highly transmitted, authorities are also recommending masks in schools.
Reactions ranged from supportive to angry. On the Facebook page of suburban Pittsburgh’s Woodland Hills High School, a woman called the change “#insane.”
Diana Martinez and Owen Cornwall, who have a first grader at Graham and Parks School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have followed the recommendation to mask their daughter.
“We are very happy about it. It gives us a little peace of mind,” said Martinez, 42, a professor at Tufts University. “I think parents tend to wear them in general and that gives us some comfort. It’s the same in our kindergarten. There will be some parents who will not mask their child, but we will mask our child.”
According to Cornwall, there seems to be a general consensus in the school community to play it safe.
“We’re fortunate in this neighborhood that they share our health concerns,” said Cornwall, 37, a visiting scientist at Tufts.
Reported daily cases in the US average 79,000, up 50% in the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s a fraction of where the daily case count was earlier this year when it surpassed 800,000.
However, the current case numbers are grossly undercounted due to a sharp drop in testing and the fact that testing is being done at home and not reported to health officials.
An influential modeling group at the University of Washington in Seattle estimates that just 13% of cases are reported to public health officials in the US – which would undercount more than half a million new infections a day.
Despite the rise in cases and the return to masking in a small number of schools, the response across the country has been largely muted, reflecting public exhaustion after more than two years of restrictions.
Outside of schools, however, officials have shown little interest in a return to mask requirements.
Last month, Philadelphia abandoned its indoor mask mandate, just days after becoming the first major American city to reinstate the requirement in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The United States is nearing the dismal mark of 1 million deaths from COVID-19. According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 6 million deaths worldwide in the pandemic.
Hospital workers at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, who had been suffering the worst of the pandemic, took a break Wednesday to acknowledge the victim.
ICU nurse coordinator Patsy Brandenburger was among the many nurses at the hospital who were blessed during the Roman Catholic ceremony by Father Patrick Okonkwo, a hospital chaplain.
She recalled the worst days of the pandemic, when the hospital was filled with hundreds of patients, including dozens on ventilators; now the hospital has only seven COVID-19 patients.
“The number of patients we saw dying in intensive care was so, so, so tough. And the families who couldn’t be there were extremely hard for all of us,” said Brandenburger, fighting back tears.
Catalini reported from Trenton, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Eugene Garcia in Orange, California, Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, and AP writers across the country contributed.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.
Insidious COVID-19 cases mean few schools have mask requirements | health & Fitness
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