Masks are back at hospitals in time for a post-holiday rise of respiratory illnesses.
"We are seeing an enormous amount of COVID. Fortunately, a lot of that is in the outpatient setting, not necessarily in the hospital like we had seen in years past. Influenza is rampant," said Dr. Denise Millstine, an internist at the Mayo Clinic.
New York City has resumed a mask mandate for its 11 public hospitals. Los Angeles and Massachusetts saw similar measures as cases of COVID-19, RSV and the flu are on the rise.
According to the CDC, there are currently 7 million confirmed cases, 73,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths related to the flu so far this season.
In the most recent week ER visits rose 12% and hospitalizations rose 17%. Nationally, wastewater testing reports show that COVID-19 levels are high across the board.
"They have their greatest bad effect in people who are at high risk — older with chronic underlying conditions, for example. But flu, for example, can take even a healthy person, a young adult, a child, and put them in the emergency room within 48 hours. We see that every year," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases professor at Vanderbuilt University.
The good news is that officials believe we could see flu and COVID-19 peak by the end of January and that the current flu vaccine matches the strain very well.
"It's typical that we see a surge in these viruses at this time of year. Although it does seem to be a bit more this year than in years past," said Millstine.
Besides a vaccine, Millstine says to protect yourself and others, stay home when sick, wash your hands and put a mask on if you don’t feel good but still need to be around people.
"The more we expose one another, the more we'll see an increase in these infections," she said.
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