NEW YORK (WABC) -- As the holiday season gets underway and seasonal illnesses spike, the New York City health commissioner issued an advisory urging residents to use masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.
The advisory also strongly recommends taking other precautions such as vaccination, testing, good hand hygiene and staying home when sick.
Health officials have also written a letter to school superintendents across the state, urging them to bring back the mask.
Dr. Jay Varma of Cornell Center for Pandemic Prevention advised Mayor Bill de Blasio at the height of the COVID crisis. He told Eyewitness News Friday night that he's all for a temporary return to masking in schools.
"I absolutely understand people's reluctance about masks but if you actually want to keep kids in school and you want to make sure schools are staffed, it turns out masks are actually one of the best ways we can keep kids healthy and teachers healthy so in-person learning can continue uninterrupted," Varma said.
There's been no word from the city's education department on any changes to its masking policy.
It comes as COVID-19 and the flu are increasing both nationally and in New York City.
Hospitalizations for the flu have reached the highest levels for this time of the year in more than a decade.
"The holiday season is about togetherness and there is a way to gather safely - even as respiratory viruses in our city are unusually high," said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. "It starts with protecting yourself. Vaccination and boosters are critical but so are common sense precautions like masking when indoors or among crowds and staying home if you don't feel well. Also, get tested before getting together, and get treated quickly if you test positive. We want everyone to have a happy and - most of all - healthy holiday."
The health commissioner's advisory urges people to get vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the flu, even if they have been previously vaccinated. Everyone 6 months or older should get their COVID-19 primary series if they haven't already and the updated bivalent booster when eligible.
An annual flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.
Experts say it is safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot at the same time.
People who are at increased risk of severe illness from respiratory viruses, including people age 65 and older, infants, people with a weakened immune system, people with certain underlying medical conditions, people who are pregnant, and people who are not up to date on flu or COVID-19 vaccinations should consider additional precautions to avoid exposure to respiratory viruses, such as wearing a higher quality mask, limiting attendance at large indoor gatherings, wearing a mask when gathering with others, and asking people to wear a mask and get a COVID-19 test prior to gathering.
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