Three academics, all of them former Brown University colleagues of White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha, have penned an op-ed for NBC News calling for mask mandates to be revived despite the pandemic being effectively over.
Abdullah Shihipar, William Goedel, and Abigail Cartus start their piece by claiming that America’s hospitals are “overwhelmed” by patients because of COVID, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the flu.
“Along with RSV, the record number of flu cases pushing pediatric hospitals near to capacity is a worrisome signal that the current flu season will be the worst in years,” they write.
“Facing a particularly acute crisis, pediatric hospitals have called upon President Joe Biden to declare an emergency to provide more resources to respond to the current surges,” they add.
This is true.
Collective members @AShihipar, @william_goedel and Abby Cartus write about the surge in respiratory illnesses this fall and what we need to do to manage it, which includes bringing back mask mandates for the time being. https://t.co/4Xt5vPPsdP
— People, Place & Health Collective (PPHC) (@pph_collective) November 27, 2022
“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association are calling on the Biden administration to declare an emergency to a support a national response to an “alarming surge of pediatric respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza,'” Fox News reported on Nov. 18th.
To their credit, however, the Biden administration has thus far refused to play ball.
“We have offered jurisdictions support confronting the impact of RSV and influenza and stand ready to provide assistance to communities who are in need of help on a case-by-case basis,” an HHS spokesperson said to The Hill.
“We encourage people to follow everyday preventive actions, including avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying up to date on their flu and COVID-19 vaccines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. National public health emergencies are determined based on nationwide data, science trends, and the insight of public health experts,” the spokesperson added.
Notice how the spokesperson’s recommendations didn’t include anything about a mask.
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) September 21, 2022
Nevertheless, the column at NBC News continues with the three claiming that the current alleged crisis — one that the White House doesn’t even seem to acknowledge — is more than reason enough to justify reviving mask mandates.
“This ‘tripledemic’ of flu, Covid and RSV is a reminder that even as the pandemic ends, the threat of seasonal respiratory viruses remains. Thankfully, our toolkit for tackling them is similar to what works to suppress Covid alone, starting with the most basic and flexible level of protection: masking. When and where respiratory viruses are surging, mask mandates should be reinstated,” they write.
They add that the evidence allegedly shows that masks work.
“Masks work and, critically, they don’t need to work perfectly to have a positive impact. A recent study found that Boston school districts that had lifted mandates averaged 45 more Covid cases per 1,000 students and staff than those with mandates,” they write.
“Other evidence has suggested that masks are effective against influenza as well, with some scientists suggesting that widespread masking during the first two years of the pandemic contributed to the historically low rates of flu and RSV observed in those years,” they continue.
But there’s also counter-evidence suggesting otherwise.
“[S]tates with mask mandates haven’t fared significantly better than the 35 states that didn’t impose them during the omicron wave. Rhode Island, where I live, has had a mask mandate since mid-December; nonetheless, we saw our January surge rise far higher than any other state,” a report published at The Washington Post earlier this year reads.
“There’s little evidence that mask mandates are the primary reason the pandemic waves eventually fall — though much of the outrage over lifting mandates is based on that assumption. Many experts acknowledge that the rise and fall of waves is a bit of a mystery, as epidemiologist Sam Scarpino explained to me on my podcast,” the report continues.
All the sudden, the Washington Post is publishing articles saying “mask mandates didn’t make much of a difference”
Imagine how different things would have been if sometime during the past two years the media had covered the overwhelming data proving thishttps://t.co/xZGgr7O4kj
— Ian Miller (@ianmSC) February 11, 2022
The three Brown University academics continue their column by focus their attention on all the people who are “still” dying from COVID, even claiming that masks are good for the soul.
“Mask mandates not only stem the spread of diseases but also have helpful psychological benefits,” they wrote. “It’s difficult for people to get adequate, high-quality information about risk and apply it in a society that has returned to pre-pandemic norms.”
It’s true that a few hundred people are still dying daily. But that’s down by thousands per day from the peak of the pandemic — and before the COVID vaccine was made available to everybody who wants it.
The three then conclude their column by essentially calling for an indefinite mask mandate that can be “dialed up when necessary,” like during fall and winter.
“Coming out of our Covid experience, disease mitigation should be an ongoing practice that can be dialed up when necessary rather than a switch that turns on or off completely,” they write.
“We should always encourage mask-wearing during fall and winter seasons (as these respiratory viruses tend to transmit more efficiently in colder weather due to changes in humidity and how much time people spend indoors) and in busy places like mass transit and grocery stores,” the trio add.
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