Soaring COVID-19 cases renew US debate over mask mandates | Politics

Officials across the United States are once again considering how and whether to enforce mask mandates as COVID-19 infections rise and the American public grows weary of the pandemic-related restrictions.

Much of the discussion centers around the nation’s schools, some of which have been closed due to infection-related staffing issues. In various places, mask mandates are lifted or voted on.

The changes come as the federal government is evaluating the supply of medical face coverings, such as N95 or KN95 masks. During Wednesday’s briefing, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zents, said officials are “vigorously considering options to provide more high-quality masks to all Americans,” noting that the government has a stockpile of more than 750 million N95 masks.

The best mask “is one that you’re going to wear and one that you can keep all day, that you can carry around in indoor public spaces,” said Dr. Rochelle Walinsky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Monday, officials in the capital, Wyoming, voted to end the mask mandate for students and teachers that has been in place since September. The Cheyenne school district has also lowered its COVID-19 isolation requirements, voting to demand that only people with symptoms and positive tests — not just those who have been exposed — need to stay home for five days and mask for five days after that.

The University of Missouri Board of Directors on Tuesday denied the head of the university system’s request to temporarily order masks on the Columbia campus, as well as an authorization for classrooms and laboratories.

Monday’s school board meeting in Wichita, Kansas, was canceled after three new members refused to wear masks to attend the swearing-in ceremony. Meanwhile, in the Topeka region, elected officials have rejected a plea to issue masks, urging people to be vigilant but saying they are not prepared for a demand.

Some jurisdictions are moving on their own toward stronger concealment policies, including requiring higher quality mask materials.

Last week, the University of Arizona announced that it will need a medical mask in indoor settings where social distancing is not possible. The school said on its website that it no longer considered cloth masks sufficient, although a cloth mask could be worn over a medical mask to improve fit and increase protection.

A new indoor mask mandate goes into effect Wednesday in New Orleans ahead of Mardi Gras season. Louisiana’s daily coronavirus hospitalization numbers have increased sevenfold in three weeks — a spike that has strained hospitals, with emergency room waiting times sometimes reaching 12 hours, according to the city’s health director, Dr.

Health officials in Omaha, Nebraska, announced a temporary mask authorization Tuesday, but the state threatened to file a lawsuit if the rule was enforced as planned. Omaha City Council President Pete Westersen said a majority of council members support the move.

“This is not a decision I took lightly. This was never an easy decision, and I know it will create some waves,” said Douglas County Health Director Lindsey Hoss. “But this is a tool we have in our toolbox. We have research and evidence that shows masks reduce transmission.”

Other places have been reluctant to return requirements that expired months ago. In Michigan, where state officials have said record high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations may peak in late January or early February before beginning to decline, health leaders have been reluctant to bring back restrictions or hide states. They continue to appeal to people to get vaccinated, get booster shots, wear appropriate masks in public and avoid large gatherings.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, recommended that people wear an N95 mask or two appropriate face coverings. A group of parents called for school mask requirements, which exist in the majority of individual counties but not statewide.

In Utah, as lawmakers prepared to kick off this year’s meeting, GOP Governor Spencer Cox exempted the Capitol and other state facilities from the municipal mask mandate. Salt Lake County Democratic Mayor Jenny Wilson said the governor does not have the authority to make exceptions to the policy, which requires N95 and KN95 or similar masks for a month in indoor settings, including schools.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.


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