Israel considers re-masking indoors with rising cases of Omicron subvariants: Could the U.S. follow suit?

June 23, 2022, 2:46 PM UTC

Health officials in Israel are considering reinstituting indoor mask rules with COVID-19 cases on the rise, according to local media reports.

It isn’t the only country to bring masks back into the conversation.

Germany’s health minister Karl Lauterbach last Friday said the country should prepare again for stricter COVID rules as the winter approaches and is considering masks from “October to Easter,” Die Welt reported.

Austria too has cautiously put masks on standby in the likelihood cases rise.

However, in the U.S., masks seemed to look like a thing of the past.

States, cities, and counties across America have largely eased or ended mandates, despite the rise of the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of Omicron and an uptick in hospitalizations. While some schools in Philadelphia, Providence, Berkeley, Calif., and Brookline, Mass., have reimposed masks in their schools, they are a small minority doing so.

Is a U-turn in the cards?

The U.S. is currently wading through its fourth biggest COVID surge, with an average of 89,000 cases reported each day to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).

While the CDC has recommended more Americans start wearing masks indoors again, it is unlikely to become a federal mandate.

“Given where the American public is now, I think it’s unlikely that we will see widespread reinstatement of mask mandates across the country,” said Chrissie Juliano, executive director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, a forum for leaders of health care departments to share strategies.


Shira Doron, an epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, tweeted in May: “It is simultaneously true that masks work and mask mandates do not work.”

She notes this is a result of two factors:

“Most spread happens in places you wouldn’t wear a mask (at home, at social gatherings with friends etc, not at the grocery). People are wearing cloth masks (which don’t work).”

“Americans’ support for mask mandates has been dropping steadily over the last year,” added Juliano, noting this still doesn’t make a case for a dropping of all mask mandates.

“Officials charged with keeping the public as healthy and safe as possible cannot make decisions based solely on public opinion.”

Mask requirements in the U.S. are still largely decided on the state or private level after a Florida judge struck down a federal mandate that would have required masks, arguing it was an overreach of authority by the U.S. health department.

She adds that there may be a return of some big cities returning to a mask mandate, depending on what happens in fall, but this depends on the jurisdictions.

“Local health and elected officials in the jurisdictions that I work with have been more willing in some cases to act sooner than some of their counterparts across the country when it comes to COVID prevention efforts,” she said.

But a federal mandate also seems unlikely due to the polarized nature of the topic in the U.S. According to the New York Times, Democrats in the U.S. are more likely to wear masks than Republicans, and Democrats who identify as “very liberal” are more likely to support mandates.

Vaccinating infants

One factor which also may reduce the number of infections, and stave off a possible mask mandate in the U.S., is a rising uptake of vaccinations among children.

The most recent wave of COVID-19 restrictions was brought on by lagging vaccination rates among children aged 5 to 11, the Guardian reports.

On Saturday, the CDC approved its first vaccine for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and began recommending that children aged 6 months through to 5 years get their first COVID-19 vaccine, with CDC director Rochelle Walensky signing off on the endorsement, saying: “Parents, I strongly encourage you to get your children vaccinated against COVID-19.”

But while millions of children are now eligible, it is not known what the take-up is likely to be. Less than a third of children aged 5 to 11 who were approved for vaccination last November have received the shots.

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