Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in Washington on Feb. 9, 2021. (Ting Shen/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is sounding the alarm after a small number of offices, hospitals, and schools reinstated mask mandates in recent days.
Describing the mandates as "alarming," Mr. Johnson told the Moms for Liberty group on Aug. 23 that they are ineffective and said he would keep fighting them.
"It's alarming that the mandates are kicking in again," he told the group. "It's like, OK, we noticed masks didn't work, particularly for children. We always knew they didn't work for kids."
The Wisconsin Republican said, "N-95 masks can have some marginal benefits—but not to deny people freedom."
Mr. Johnson has said he was always skeptical of federal vaccine mandates and has been an advocate for people who claimed to have been injured by COVID-19 vaccines. He also called on the Biden administration to admit that its COVID-19 policies didn't work.
"They'll never admit they were wrong in how they handled COVID. I don't see how anybody can take a look at how the federal government—really, over the course of two administrations—how they handled COVID, and say it was anything but a complete and miserable failure," he told the Washington Examiner in May.
The White House, the senator added, won't acknowledge what he described as the "the incalculable human toll" and the "economic devastation caused by the shutdowns."
Mr. Johnson's recent remarks come after Hollywood studio Lionsgate said in a memo earlier this week that it would reimpose a mask mandate for several floors of its office in Santa Monica, California.
“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,” a Lionsgate manager said in a memo, reported by Deadline.
This week, Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Santa Rosa, California, and the Upstate Community Hospital in Syracuse, New York, brought back the masking rule for visitors, patients, nurses, and doctors.
"To ensure that we are helping protect the health and safety of our patients, our workforce, and our community, we have reintroduced a mask mandate for physicians, staff, patients, members, and visitors in the hospital and medical offices in the Santa Rosa Service Area," Kaiser Permanente said.
Morris Brown College in Atlanta also said that masks will again be required on campus because of a rise in cases on a larger campus in Atlanta.
"There will be no parties or large student events on campus for the next two weeks," the school said.
At the same time, there has been an increase in media coverage of several COVID-19 variants, including one that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated could potentially evade vaccines. No federal agencies have announced any new mask mandates or recommendations.
In recent days, an increasing number of television doctors have made suggestions that some people start masking again.
“It’s riskier that you will get infected now than it was a month or two ago, without question, probably twice as risky,” Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of medicine at the University of San Francisco, told CNN in a recent interview. “If you’re trying to be careful, it’s time to whip out the mask again.”
Also appearing on CNN, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a cardiologist in Washington, said on Aug. 22 that people who are at risk from a COVID-19 infection—including people aged 65 and older—should put masks on again. He also said that President Joe Biden should do so, too.
"Octogenarians comprise the highest-risk group for complications following COVID infection," he said. "At least until the numbers start to drop again, it would be appropriate for President Biden to take some precautions and wear a mask in crowds."
Last week, COVID-19 hospitalizations rose across the country, according to data from the CDC. Hospitalizations rose by 21.6 percent, to 12,612 new admissions from 10,370, according to the data ending Aug. 12.
Despite the increase, it's among the lowest levels of hospitalization recorded since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
"An upswing is not a surge; it's not even a wave," Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer for Tufts Medicine, told ABC News this week. "What we're seeing is a very gradual and small upward trajectory of cases and hospitalizations, without deaths really going along, which is great news."