As respiratory illnesses surge across New York City, health officials are once again urging residents to wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan issued an advisory on Friday encouraging New Yorkers to use face coverings in indoor public places. Vasan's guidance is not a mandate and will not be enforced by city officials, though it may be adopted by some private businesses.
"The holiday season is about togetherness and there is a way to gather safely — even as respiratory viruses in our city are unusually high," Vasan said in a statement. "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."
According to the advisory, the move was prompted by soaring rates of respiratory viruses in the Big Apple. Flu cases have been on the rise since the end of October, and flu-like illness made up 12% of all weekly emergency department visits in the city as of Nov. 26.
RSV reports also remain much higher than in previous years, the advisory noted, and the 7-day average of COVID-19 reported cases and hospitalizations increased by 26% in the last week of November.
According to the Daily Mail, New York City is currently recording 3,761 daily COVID infections — a 55% increase over the last two weeks.
This year's flu season has been described as the worst since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, with hospitalizations for this time of year the highest in more than a decade.
There were 35,704 confirmed cases of the flu nationwide during the week ending Dec. 3, according to the Mail.
On Monday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended people "wear a high quality, well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses."
The CDC designated New York City as an area of very high flu activity for the week ending Dec. 3 and more than 11,000 cases of flu were confirmed in the city during the last full week of November.
That tally more than doubles the previous week's confirmed total of 5,500 infections.
According to the Mail, deaths from COVID remain minimal, with 16 deaths being recorded in the city each day, which is less than one death per 100,000 members of the city's population.
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