People wearing protective face masks walk on the street in Brooklyn, New York on October 7, 2020. (Chung I Ho/The Epoch Times)
Nearly one year after President Joe Biden declared the pandemic over, some colleges and work places have reinstituted mask mandates amid reports that the administration is set to roll out new COVID regulations as early as next month.
The COVID sub-variant, currently known as Eris, which has been seen in more than 50 countries including Denmark and Israel, has spurred increasing numbers of medical professionals and health activists to begin calling for a reinstatement of COVID-era restrictions, including forced face coverings.
However, the public can expect any new regulations to be met by congressional pushback. Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) told The Epoch Times that new mandates would be “simply inappropriate for any level of government.”
“The notion that certain jurisdictions and institutions would rush back into mandate mode is not going to be well received by anyone in this country,” said Mr. Kiley. “The president himself has declared an end to the national emergency. A review of the evidence around these mandates has not shown a positive health impact.”
Still, in some parts of the country, mask mandates have already arrived. A slight uptick in the virus led two hospitals in Syracuse, New York, University and Community General, to reimpose mandatory face-masking and COVID testing on Aug. 17, according to local news outlets.
"Effective immediately, mandatory masking is required by all staff, visitors, and patients in clinical areas,” instructed a memo sent to staff and obtained by Syracuse.com. "Clinical areas are defined as any location patients gather, wait, transport thorough, or receive care."
In Los Angeles, major Hollywood studio Lionsgate demanded employees cover their faces at its Santa Monica office buildings. The policy was announced in an internal memo obtained by Deadline, demanding that “Employees must wear a medical grade face covering (surgical mask, KN95 or N95) when indoors except when alone in an office with the door closed, actively eating, actively drinking at their desk or workstation, or if they are the only individual present in a large open workspace.”
In Atlanta, Georgia Morris Brown College announced a mask mandate for everyone entering its campus. In an Aug. 20 Instagram post the college stated that “all students and employees are required to wear face masks (staff may remove face masks when in their offices alone.)”
Health officials are also beginning to urge the return of face coverings among the general public. The Los Angeles County Public Health agency has recommended that higher-risk residents need to wear masks, citing a rise in COVID cases.
Further, a new COVID booster shot catered to the most recent variant is expected to be rolled out next month, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Mandy Cohen told NBC News.
“We will likely see this as an annual COVID shot, just like the flu shot,” said Dr. Cohen.
However, despite the growing concerns, spread of the virus has remained at historically low levels. While the average COVID hospitalization rate nationwide rose about 17 percent between June and July, they remain at a small fraction of what they were a year ago when they measured at more than six times the current admission rates, according to CDC.
The issue of mask mandates has become a hot-button issue for many Americans. During 2020 and 2021, when the world was in the grips of the pandemic, masks were widely forced on the population under the belief that face coverings could prevent the spread. The CDC enacted a mask mandate on public transportation that was enacted in February 2021 and extended to May 3 while several private businesses refused entry to citizens who refused to cover their face.
Critics of mandates have cited numerous studies which have shown that the wearing of masks have had a negligible, or even harmful effect. A reanalysis of the Boston mask study, which claimed that mask mandates reduced COVID cases in schools, found that districts that dropped masking requirements experienced the largest decreases in COVID cases. A study from 2021 published in the peer-reviewed Southern Medical Journal evaluated the impact of mask mandates on mortality and intensive care admissions in Bexar County, Texas, from July 8 to Aug. 12, 2020, and found that mask mandates had no verifiable effect. A review of 78 studies from the Cochrane Library in January 2023 also found no evidence that masking worked.
The CDC itself stated conflicting views on whether masks could be an effective method of preventing viral transmission. In review of the evidence published on its website in May of 2020 titled “Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings—Personal Protective and Environmental Measures,” it noted that, “Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized control trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory confirmed influenza.”
The CDC updated its guidance in May 2023, loosening up on its guidance with current guidelines stating “Masks are recommended in indoor public transportation settings and may be required in other places by local or state authorities.” The agency also recommends that “children ages 2 years and older can wear masks or respirators to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.”
For nearly a year, the issue of remained largely dormant until an Aug. 18 report by Infowar host Alex Jones that high-level TSA officials had confirmed that “new memorandums and policies were being completed that would reimplement masking, starting with TSA & airport employees as early as mid-September.” The report went viral and “masking” began trending on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
Although Rep. Kiley believes mask mandates are unlikely to gather steam, chalking it up to “a few irresponsible institutions who don’t understand where the country is right now,” he says the public needs to remain vigilant.
“I'm going to make sure there is no legislation passed in Bongress, through any federal program, but it will really come down to how loudly the citizenry makes their voices heard.”