Masks come back as admissions rise: 3 COVID-19 updates

At least eight hospitals in the U.S. have brought back mandatory mask rules as COVID-19 admissions tick up.

The CDC dropped its universal masking guideline in September, making this fall the first virus season since COVID-19 emerged in which hospitals and health systems must independently determine when and how to implement universal masking, if at all. Among hospitals that have so far reintroduced mask mandates, most pointed to an uptick in patients and employees testing positive over the past few weeks as key factors in their decision. 

Two more updates: 

  • Admissions and deaths: The U.S. saw 12,613 new COVID-19 admissions for the week ending Aug. 12, marking a nearly 22 percent jump from the previous week and the fifth consecutive week of significant increase, CDC data shows. Meanwhile, deaths were up 8.9 percent for the week ending Aug. 12, albeit from record lows. 


  • BA.2.86 and vaccines: Global health authorities continue to keep close watch on BA.2.86, a distant omicron relative variant with more than 30 mutations in the spike protein. As of Aug. 28, only 13 cases had been reported to GISAID, a global virus database. However, experts believe the true number is higher given a drop in global sequencing efforts and reporting delays. 

Meanwhile, vaccine manufacturers are working on updated shots for the fall, which are expected to be available in September. The new shots target XBB.1.5, which was the dominant strain at the time of the FDA's recommendation in June. It is too early to determine whether BA.2.86 will outcompete other strains and cause an uptick in cases, but if it does, "The reactivity of the booster to (BA.2.86) would be predicted to be low," Andrew Pekosz, PhD, a virologist at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, told Today. "This is something that could trigger a brand-new booster based on its sequence, if this variant truly did become a significant cause of cases. But we don't know that now." 


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