The Centers for Disease Control Prevention on Monday encouraged people to wear masks to help reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses this season as Covid, influenza and RSV circulate at the same time.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, on a call with reporters, said wearing a mask is one of many daily precautions people can take to reduce their risk of catching or spread a respiratory virus during the busy holiday season.
“We also encourage you to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of respiratory disease,” Walensky said, adding that people living in areas with high levels of Covid transmission should especially consider masking.
The CDC director said the agency is considering expanding its Covid community levels system to account for other respiratory viruses such as influenza. The system is the basis of when the CDC advises the public to wear masks. But Walensky encouraged people to take proactive action.
“You don’t have to wait for CDC action to put on a mask,” Walensky said. “We would encourage all of these preventative measures – hand washing, staying home when sick, masking, increased ventilation – during respiratory virus season, but especially in areas with high community levels of Covid-19. »
About 5% of the US population lives in counties where the CDC officially recommends masks due to high levels of Covid. The CDC continues to recommend mask-wearing for anyone traveling by plane, train, bus or other means of public transportation, Walensky said.
People with weakened immune systems and those who otherwise face an increased risk of serious illness should also consider wearing a mask, the CDC director said.
Walensky strongly encouraged everyone who is eligible to get their flu shot and Covid booster. Flu vaccine coverage is lagging for at-risk groups — children under 5, pregnant women and at-risk seniors — compared to last year, the CDC director said. There is no vaccine against RSV.
“I want to emphasize that the flu vaccine can save lives and, most importantly, there is still time to get vaccinated to be protected against the flu this season and its potential serious consequences,” Walensky said.
The flu arrived early and hit the United States hard with hospitalizations at a decade high for this time of year. More than 8.7 million people have gotten sick, 78,000 have been hospitalized and 4,500 people have died from the flu this season, according to CDC data. Fourteen children have died of the flu so far this season.
More than 19,000 people were hospitalized with the flu in the week ending Nov. 26, nearly double the previous week, according to CDC data.
People hospitalized with Covid also increased by 27% in the week ending December 2, according to CDC data. And respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is hospitalizing children at a higher rate than in previous years. Walensky said RSV appears to have peaked in the southeast and may be leveling off in the mid-Atlantic, though virus circulation remains high across much of the country.
“We are now facing a new wave of disease. Another moment of overstretched capacity and truly a tragic and often preventable death,” Walensky said, as she thanked healthcare workers for their service during repeated waves of illnesses they have faced since the Covid pandemic began.
Dr Sandra Fryhofer, chair of the board of directors of the American Medical Association, said the simultaneous circulation of Covid, influenza and RSV is “a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season”. Fryhofer said she understands many people are tired of getting repeated shots of Covid, but getting the shot is the best way to avoid getting sick while on vacation.
“You could get really, really sick this year and ruin your parties if you don’t get vaccinated,” Fryhofer said on Monday’s call.
The Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics last month called on the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency in response to rising pediatric hospitalizations due to RSV and influenza.
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