Will a Rise in COVID Cases Bring Back The Mask Mandate?

In this week's episode of NBC10 Boston's "COVID Q&A" series, top Boston doctors dismissed the idea of a statewide mask mandate.

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With Philadelphia becoming the first city in the nation to reimpose an indoor mask mandate and COVID cases jumping 40% in Massachusetts in the past week, many are wondering if we will see a return of mask mandates.

In this week's episode of NBC10 Boston's "COVID Q&A" series, top Boston doctors dismissed the idea of a statewide mask mandate.



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"There hasn't been a mask mandate for Massachusetts since May 28, 2021, before the delta variant was even known about," noted Dr. Shira Doron of Tuft's Medical Center. "So I don't anticipate that there would be one again."

Doron said that as cases rise, it is better to educate the public on how best to protect oneself rather than imposing a statewide mask mandate.

"I do think that the better approach is to educate people about how to protect themselves with a high quality mask as opposed to blanket mandates which may not have the same uptake, particularly among people who maybe are low risk and know they're low risk," advised Doron.

Doron's colleague, Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, Chief of Infectious Disease at Brigham and Women's Hospital, agreed. Dr. Kuritzkes said a big challenge of a statewide mask mandate is the implementation of it in terms of businesses such as restaurants and bars.

"The big challenge in terms of the issue around mask mandates is that it's easy for individuals to use masks and protect themselves, but it gets much more challenging when you start to think about particular venues and how a mask mandate has an impact on them," said Kuritzkes. "For example, what does that mean for restaurants? What does it mean for bars? What does it mean for indoor entertainment settings where people might or might not choose to be masked? So it does, unfortunately, become to some extent, where people really need to think about their own level of comfort and protection and what measures they are willing to take to protect themselves, to protect their families, and their loved ones."

Kuritzkes said that while he doesn't see a statewide mask mandate being reimposed in Massachusetts, there could be localities or cities across the Commonwealth that do bring the mandate back. Earlier this week, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said there are no plans to bring back the requirement yet.

But cases are rising throughout the state. The latest wastewater data shows a quadruple rise in virus levels since early March. Still, the doctors say it may take a few more weeks of increases to see the cases transform into hospitalization.

"To the increase in the wastewater levels in the cases, it's been about three weeks and that may not be enough given that case by case, omicron is less severe than delta. You may need to see really a bigger increase in cases before you start to see it spill over into hospitalizations," said Dr. Doron.

The doctors agree that the national CDC map is showing an increase in cases which is being led by an increase in cases throughout the Northeast. Kuritzkes said that because of this, expect cases to further rise in Massachusetts.

"I think what we do need is a better sense of (asking) what are the relative proportions so that we can model what the actual extent is," said Kuritzkes. "That's why it's nice to have a series of different metrics, the wastewater levels, the numbers of hospitalizations, the actual reported cases, and then some sense of what the volume of testing at home is based on sales of these kits."

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