Health

Masks Might Be Coming Back As 'Tripledemic' Surges

Heading into the holidays, cases of respiratory illness are surging, and authorities are urging people to take preventive measures.

Masks Might Be Coming Back As 'Tripledemic' Surges
AP
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Public health officials are suggesting a return to masks as the country grapples with three highly contagious respiratory illnesses: COVID-19RSV and the flu — the so-called "tripledemic."

"It makes me feel much safer when I wear the mask, and I would like to see more people wearing a mask too," shopper Maggie Slomka said, before heading into a grocery store.

New York City's health commissioner is advising residents to wear face coverings in stores, public transit, childcare facilities and other public spaces. Officials in Washington state and Oregon are making similar recommendations, and Los Angeles' public health director is warning a mask mandate could be imposed if COVID cases and hospitalizations keep rising.

"Masks work by decreasing the amount of virus: both that come out of your mouth and spread to others, and to an extent that which comes into your mouth and nose," said Dr. Domenic Martinello, chief medical officer at MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 77% of the country's hospital beds are in use. In some areas, recovering at home is complicated by empty shelves at the pharmacy.

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"Really, really hard to order Tylenol generic brand, ibuprofen generic brand, cough syrup, especially for kids," said Susana Keshishian, a pharmacist in the Los Angeles area.

In addition to masking, children and the elderly — who are at higher risk for severe illness from respiratory viruses — are urged to get up to date on their vaccinations.

In Chicago, the city health commissioner says she is particularly concerned about older residents. Dr. Allison Arwady says only about a third of the city's residents over 65 have gotten their COVID booster and most likely have not gotten a flu shot either, reflecting a national problem.

"40% to 50% of the population that's eligible has only taken the flu vaccine," said Dr. Andrew Pekosz, virologist and a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Vaccines that sit on a shelf are of no use. It's vaccines that are in people's arms."

It's been almost three years since COVID broke out, and health officials acknowledge that there might be some push back to wearing a mask again, especially during holiday gatherings. Experts recommend getting tested for COVID before gatherings and wearing a mask around immunocompromised individuals.