Will Relaxed Mask Rules, Holidays and April Vacation Lead to COVID Spike?

Two top Boston doctors shared their thoughts during NBC10 Boston's weekly COVID Q&A series

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As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Massachusetts, COVID-19 policies are being walked back.

Earlier this week, we saw a return to normal when it came to the Boston Marathon, where thousands of people gathered to watch the 28,000 runners.



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A day later, the Transportation Security Administration announced it won't be enforcing mask wearing following a federal judge's order overturning its travel mask mandate.

And holiday gatherings and Massachusetts school vacation week could also contribute to a potential spike.

Two top Boston doctors spoke to NBC10 Boston during our weekly COVID Q&A and said for the most part they aren't worried about a dramatic rise in cases.

"Anytime people are moving together or gathering in places there is always a risk for increased transmission," Dr. Brian Chow of Tufts Medical Center said. "But we have to understand we are in a different place than we were two years ago. We have effective vaccines (and) other events like the Boston Marathon are outdoors, so I'm less worried about those type of things."

Brigham and Women's Hospital's Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes agreed. He said people have to take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to a potential rise in cases.

"All of the family gatherings over the past weekend may have the potential for some increased transmission," he said. "We are just going to have to wait and see what happens. It is very hard to predict if this bump will take off as a major spike or if it's just going to be a blip."

Across the U.S., cases are nowhere near the pandemic peak of about 800,000 new cases a day that were reported in mid-January. New infections are currently averaging about 35,000 a day, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Still, cases have started edging up nationwide in recent weeks and some areas of the country are seeing localized surges.

Massachusetts health officials reported 6,514 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, a report that included multiple days over the long holiday weekend and two new deaths. The state's seven-day average positivity rate rose to 4.2% on Tuesday, compared to 3.89% Friday.

Chow and Kuritzkes also discussed the end of the travel mask mandate on public transportation. Both said they were disappointed with the federal judge's decision and urged people to continue masking.

"It is unfortunate timing and misguided from a public health perspective... I think it ultimately concedes to a culturally selfishness where my inconvenience is more important than your well-being," Kuritzkes said.

The MBTA said Tuesday it will no longer require people to wear masks; face coverings are also no longer mandatory at Logan Airport or on flights from many airlines.

A day after the ruling, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation announced that it was lifting its mask rules for the MBTA and airport facilities in the state. Amtrak also announced it would taking a mask-optional approach on their trains and stations.

Despite the updated message from Massachusetts, Chow said people should still be masking up while on public transportation to prevent spread as people are in close proximity to one another.

"I think it is a great idea when people are in close proximity, if there is any concern, that we should continue wearing a mask and show concern for our neighbors. To be respectful of our neighbors, I think it is wise to continue to mask on the MBTA," he said. "We don't have a good idea where this pandemic is going quite yet. We know every time we see a light at the end of the tunnel, the virus gets ahead of us and causes more cases and more people to get sick."

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