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Mask requirements are back in New York and California, but not in most other states: gunshots

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People wear face covers at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles on Wednesdays. California residents will be required to wear face masks in all indoor public spaces starting Wednesday, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. Mario Tama / Getty Images Hide caption

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Mario Tama / Getty Images

People wear face covers at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles on Wednesdays. California residents will be required to wear face masks in all indoor public spaces starting Wednesday, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

A new nationwide mask mandate went into effect in California on Wednesday, bringing the total number of states with mask mandates to nearly 10. At a moment when health authorities are warning of the rapid spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant, states that require a mask are outliers.

This is true in places with huge climbs like Michigan, where there is no mandate and hospitals are cluttered with COVID-19 patients. There are none in Ohio where the legislature has stripped the governor of mandate. There are none in New Hampshire, which currently has the most cases of COVID-19 per capita of any US state, at 93 cases per 100,000 population.

Even some counties and cities – such as Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington DC – that had pro-mask mandates at the start of the pandemic appear to be bringing them back.

Public health experts following the pandemic are concerned. Past experience with COVID-19 shows that if containment measures are taken early on, surges are lower and end faster, which means more lives will be saved.

“I’m a little confused why we’re not talking about masking anymore,” says Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Chicago. “We want to avoid that hospitals are overloaded. We don’t want to have any impact on our economy. And that works best if we keep the cases as low as possible, and that means a mask requirement.”

Here’s what we know about the mask requirement, and what role they can play in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Can Masks Help Stop Omicron?

According to what is known about the variant so far, yes. SARS-CoV-2 is still a respiratory virus, which means it still mainly spreads from an infected person who inhales, coughs, or sneezes the virus and someone else breathes it in. The difference from Omicron is that it appears to be a lot more transmissible which means it is easier to catch.

But a good mask will make a difference in how much virus people spit out or ingest, Landon says. On an individual level, this means that it may be a good time to bring out your highest quality mask – an N95 or KN95 – especially if you are traveling or going out in public in crowds. Even if you slip your mask under your nose, it is a good idea to improve your game and make sure your mask fits snugly.

It's time to step up your masquerading

Do mask mandates work?

There is some evidence that mask requirements can help contain transmission. Recently, Rebecca Nugent, a data scientist at Carnegie Mellon who has been tracking the effects of measures taken to contain COVID-19, studied how the Delta variant spreads in summer and fall.

She says that among states with similar vaccination rates, those with nationwide masking requirements were better able to contain the spread.

“While a mask mandate doesn’t necessarily end the spread, you can see a difference between those who kept a nationwide mask mandate and those who didn’t,” she explains. You and your employees are still analyzing how big the difference is between mask mandates and case numbers.

She also points out that while county and township policymakers can, and often do, have masking requirements, compliance at the local level requires residents to keep an eye on how rules change from county to county be able.

“It is neither reasonable nor realistic to believe that we can curb the spread by removing these little pockets of [policies] in different places, “she says.” The nationwide mask mandate will, in my opinion, help more with communication and compliance and reduce that uncertainty. “

Meanwhile, the CDC’s current policy is that everyone should mask themselves – vaccinated or not – in indoor public places with high transmission, which occurs virtually everywhere. But while the federal government has instituted and advocated vaccine mandates, it hasn’t shown the same interest in masking requirements. President Biden’s Omicron Action Plan makes little mention of masks.

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Will people adhere to them despite existing mandates or have pandemic fatigue and mask resistance finally set in?

Politicians seem to have the impression that people are done with the pandemic rules, are not complying anyway and are just annoying mandates.

Landon, who actually worked to convince the Illinois governor to keep that state’s mask mandate, says she is frustrated with the idea that masks are a huge burden.

“I said to the governor in my conversation with him, ‘You have to stop talking about unmasking as if it were a reward because it upholds this belief that masks are somehow a punishment for the pandemic,'” she said . “It’s really not – in fact, it’s literally the least we can do to protect other people.”

It is possible that public opposition to masking is exaggerated. A survey of 993 people conducted by Ipsos and Axios on December 10-13 found that 64% of people nationwide support state and local masking mandates and that 69% of people said they either always or sometimes wear masks when they leave the house .

“It’s a balancing act for politics,” says Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Throughout the pandemic, she says, “policy makers at the time have been a little more reactive than proactive, in part because of the politicization of some of these measures.” And she adds, “We’ve been around for a long time, and there is also a fatigue factor in the audience. So it’s a challenge.”

If cases explode in the US like the UK, governors and mayors looking for new ways to contain the spread without imposing bans or closing businesses may find masking obligations more attractive.

Still, some public health advocates warn that it is better not to wait for the cases to explode before taking damage control measures.

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