Mask mandate resumes at all 11 New York City public hospitals amid rise in flu, COVID and RSV cases

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Wednesday, January 3, 2024
11 NYC public hospitals reinstate mask mandate amid rise in COVID, flu and RSV
Crystal Cranmore has more from Elmhurst Hospital.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A mask mandate has resumed for all 11 of the city's public hospitals after an increase in coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus cases.

The mask requirement also applies for all health clinics and nursing homes run by NYC Health + Hospitals.

Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said Wednesday the requirement is for areas of the hospital where patients are being treated.

He said it is also partially to protect the staff from incoming sickness as the numbers of patient cases rise. He said city hospitals are currently handling patient levels well and none are overwhelmed.

Vasan said the mask mandate is the right move as we come out of the holiday season.

"What we don't want is staffing shortages, right? When we saw the omicron wave in 2022, the biggest issues were not only people getting sick, but that we had a lot of frontline health workers, they were out with COVID," he said.

Vasan said there are increasing levels of sickness in the city, and health officials are hearing of increased coughing and other symptoms at places where people gather, like work.

Dr. Tapia Mendoza was on the front lines of the COVID-19 response in Washington Heights, where he says there is a high population of patients with asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes -- all conditions that can make it easier to get sick with either COVID, the flu or RSV.

This is the first season where there is a vaccine for all three respiratory viruses. However, Mendoza says there is still a roadblock in the fight against the triple threat.

"There's a lot of resistance, especially in minority communities, to getting the flu vaccine," Mendoza said.

Mendoza said the mask requirement in patient areas should apply to all health facilities.

Health advocates say the rise in respiratory illnesses isn't so vastly different from years past, but they are much more prepared thanks to lessons learned during the pandemic.

"My message to New York is, is that it's not inevitable that you're just going to fall victim to this, there are tools and there are strategies we can take," Vasan said.

He said the most important thing for people who feel sick to do is stay home.

RELATED | Suffolk County health officials tracking rise in whooping cough cases

The most common symptoms are cough, nasal congestions and fever. The cough can last several weeks.


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