Feds say spike in COVID-19 numbers could mean return of masks, as NYC requests usage in schools

COVID-19 case rates have risen nationally 26% in the last week.

Updated: May 18, 2022 - 2:58pm

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Federal federal health officials warned Wednesday that COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are again increasing, with higher numbers projected for the coming months, and that the hardest-hit areas should consider reinstating an indoor mask mandate.

The rising numbers are currently concentrated n the Northeast and Midwest, but "prior increases of infections, in different waves of infection, have demonstrated that this travels across the country," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

"We urge local leaders to encourage use of prevention strategies like masks in public indoor settings and increasing access to testing and treatment," she also said.

In New York City schools, masks are no longer required, except for the youngest of students. However, city health officials are now asking that all students, teachers and staff wear face coverings inside as the city's COVID risk level went from medium to high Tuesday. 

"We urge you to take the following proven precautions to protect your family and our communities: wear a mask," Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan and Schools Chancellor David Banks said in a letter to parents. "We recommend that everyone age 2 and older wear a well-fitting mask in all public indoor settings, including at school and early childhood education programs, even if not required."

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha warned that Congress must immediately new funding for more vaccines and treatments, or risk becoming increasingly vulnerable to the virus this coming fall and winter.

The most recent wave of the virus hit the U.S. during December and January and was driven by the more contagious but generally milder omicron variant.

Walensky noted Wednesday that the U.S. is now seeing another rise in cases, including a 26% national increase in the last week. Experts believe the rising case numbers are being driven by an omicron subvariant.

Though hospitalizations remain low, and much lower than during the omicron wave, they have risen 19% since last week.