Mask mandates return as COVID-19 cases rise in US

Columbia University is again asking its students to mask up in classrooms, with public health experts urging caution as COVID-19[feminine] the number of cases is climbing in the United States

The university’s COVID-19 protocol officer over the weekend announced the change, citing an increase in infections in the region. The resurgence of the disease in New York after the sharp drop in cases earlier this year was punctuated on Sunday when Mayor Eric Adams tested positive for the virus.

The virus is also spreading elsewhere in the United States. More than two dozen states across the country have reported an increase in cases over the past eight days, although hospitalizations and deaths have not seen a commensurate increase. Nearly one million Americans have died from COVID-19, with an average of 500 people succumbing to the disease each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Monday, Columbia requires students to wear non-cloth masks in classrooms, according to a student-run news site. The mask mandate, which will remain in place for the remainder of the spring semester, applies to all students, but not faculty, for whom masks are optional.

“As has been our policy all year, instructors have the option to remove their masks while teaching. Current policies on masking in all other settings remain unchanged,” said the COVID-19 Director of the university, Donna Lynne, in a statement.

The move comes after Barnard College, a Columbia-affiliated women’s undergraduate college, reinstated its indoor mask rule on April 6. Barnard requires students to wear face coverings in classrooms, dining halls, study spaces and at Columbia-sponsored events, according to the same student publication.

Barnard resumed requiring masks after the college saw a spike in cases after its previous mask mandate was lifted on March 28, causing COVID-19 symptoms and absences among community members.

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Columbia and Barnard aren’t the only ones reimposing coronavirus precautions. At least two other universities — Georgetown in Washington, DC, and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland — are asking students to mask up again. Georgetown announced the reinstatement of a temporary indoor mask mandate beginning April 7 in response to a significant increase in cases on campus. The requirement will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, according to Georgetown.

Johns Hopkins also reinstated its mask mandate on April 7 after about 100 undergraduate students tested positive for COVID-19 in less than a week.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said at a news conference Monday that residents should dig up their masks again. The city will apply a mask mandate starting April 18, requiring people to wear face coverings at all businesses in Philadelphia.

Bettigole noted that COVID-19 cases have increased by more than 50% in 10 days. Although hospitalizations remain low due to COVID-19, she expects another wave of the disease linked to the Omicron BA.2 sub-variantwhich now dominates in the United States

“If we do this, we can literally save the lives of vulnerable Philadelphians,” she said, adding that by wearing masks, residents can “continue to participate in city life without increasing transmission.” .

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Some Philadelphia business owners have opposed the mask rules, saying they cause tension between them and customers who don’t want to cover their faces. But Bettigole reiterated that corporate and public health interests are in fact aligned.

“In the interest of keeping the economic life of the city flowing, the best thing we can do is reduce cases,” she said, while noting that facilities still require proof of vaccination for the also don’t need masks.

Elsewhere in New York, Broadway theaters continue to require theatergoers to wear masks. Even with the rule in place, shows cancel performances due to actors testing positive for COVID-19.

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