More states remove COVID-19 mask mandates

Masked teacher with students
Masked teacher with students

paulaphoto / iStock

Across the country, states are once again beginning to loosen or do away with mask mandates in schools and indoor spaces as COVID-19 cases continue to drop from the Omicron surge.

Connecticut, Oregon, and Delaware joined New Jersey yesterday in announcing plans to end their statewide school mask mandates in the coming weeks, the Associated Press reports. Those states, run by Democratic governors who have taken a strict stance on COVID-19 restrictions, were among the last 12 states to have universal masking requirements in place for schools.

In related news, California announced plans to end its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people next week, but school mask mandates remain in place.

School masking has been a political football since September of 2020, when many of the nation's schools resumed in-person learning after the initial wave of the pandemic. Recent guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the usefulness of cloth masks complicates the issue, as does the widespread availability of vaccines for American children ages 5 and up.

The United States reported 340,947 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 2,908 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

The 7-day average of new daily cases is 253,782, with 2,598 deaths, according to the New York Times tracker. That is the lowest 7-day average since early December, before the Omicron variant became the dominant strain in the United States.

4.2 million pediatric cases in January

According to the latest update from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more than 630,000 pediatric COVID-19 cases were reported for the week ending on Feb 3, down from a pea on Jan 20 of 1.15 million.

"However, child cases this week remained extremely high, over double the peak level of the Delta surge in 2021," the AAP said. "Over 12 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic; over 1.4 million of these cases have been added in the past 2 weeks."

Next week, on Feb 15, the Food and Drug Administration's advisory committee on vaccines will meet to discuss an emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children 6 months through 4 years.

Poll: 30% expect to get COVID-19 soon

One in three Americans expect to catch COVID within the next month, and only 1 in 10 think the disease will be eradicated by this time next year, according to the latest Axios-Ipsos poll.

The poll shows the confusion Americans have about living with the virus. About 21% believe the country should open completely with no restrictions, while 29% believe Americans should begin to move forward from the pandemic, but with some precautions.

Respondents are divided almost evenly into four schools of thought on how to proceed: Drop all requirements, keep some, keep most, or add even more.

Looking to recalculate hospitalizations

A Biden administration task force is working with hospitals nationwide on recalculating the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States, Politico reports. The group is asking hospitals to separate patients who go to the hospital because they have COVID-19 from those who are admitted for other reasons and test positive afterward.

The move comes as the Omicron variant, which can cause asymptomatic infections in many vaccinated or boostered people, has become the dominant variant in the United States.

The HHS Protect Public Data Hub shows 104,090 inpatient beds in use for COVID-19. After weeks of high activity, hospitalization rates and deaths appear to be declining across the country.

Most states are now reporting fewer deaths than they had a week ago, according to a USA Today analysis of Johns Hopkins data.

Hamster COVID, Hong Kong spike, Olympics, other global news

  • Pet hamsters can transmit COVID-19 to humans and likely triggered a recent Delta variant outbreak in Hong Kong, a research team from the University of Hong Kong reported in a recent preprint study. The outbreak led to a cluster of about 50 infections and the culling of about 2,000 animals. A number of animal species can contract COVID-19 from humans, but, previously only mink were found to transmit the virus back to humans. Research said imported hamsters from the Netherlands were the most likely source of the outbreak, which started at a pet store, probably with two introductions and transmission under way in the animals since the middle of November.

  • Hong Kong today reported another daily record high for COVID-19 cases, and health officials further tightened restrictions on gatherings. Also, infections in truck drivers have led to product shortages, including vegetables at grocery stores, according to Reuters.

  • China is now allowing some spectators into the Winter Olympic Games, saying that the closed-loop system for preventing the spread of COVID-19 from Games participants to the public has been effective.

  • COVID-19 vaccination in adolescents provides very high levels of protection against infection, symptoms, and severe disease, according to data released today by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Preliminary evidence on booster doses suggests increased protection, but duration isn't clear, and the priority for boosters should still focus on people at increased risk for severe disease, the group added.

  • The global total today approached 400 million cases and is at 399,679,746 infections, plus 5,758,190 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

CIDRAP News Editor Lisa Schnirring contributed to this story.

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