An epidemiologist said that Americans should still mask up inside, potentially even inside their own homes, amid the latest Covid-19 surge.
Dr Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist at the University of Texas, told PBS News Hour last week that Americans should still ‘be wearing masks in crowded areas, especially during a surge.’
She also appeared to endorse wearing masks in your own home ‘if you want to reduce household transmission.’
‘Certainly at home, [masks work] if you want to reduce household transmission,’ she said. She also advised that if you test positive, ‘please wear a mask if you leave isolation at five days.’
Her comments come amid a small uptick in the virus- with hospitalizations rising 12 percent in the past week, believed to be due to a new, more infectious variant dubbed ‘Eris,’ which is still considered mild.
However, the rise is from a small base, and the rate is still a fraction of that from this time last year.
While hospitalizations from Covid are rising, Covid rates remain at historic lows. Recent deaths have also remained static and are at their lowest levels since Covid emerged, at around 500 per week
The above graph shows Covid deaths recorded in the US per 100,000 people. These have not started to rise and remain at record lows
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed 8,000 patients were admitted to hospitals across the country the week July 22, up 12 percent from the previous week.
This was the first week-on-week rise since December.
Dr Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist at the University of Texas, told PBS News Hour last week that Americans should still ‘be wearing masks in crowded areas, especially during a surge’
Many current cases have ben attributed to the new highly-infectious variant ‘Eris,’ which has quickly become dominant in America. Experts believe it now accounts for one in five US infection.
The World Health Organization has classified Eris, formally known as EG.5, as a ‘variant of interest.’
However, the CDC has a slightly different classification system, and it has designated Eris a variant ‘under monitoring’ and not one of ‘interest’ or ‘concern.’
Experts have said that EG.5 is one of the quickest growing variants across the world, which could be due to a ‘slightly beneficial mutation’ which means it is spreading fastest than its relatives.
It has also been detected in China, South Korea, Japan and Canada, among other countries.
In the first week of July, 7.5 percent of Covid cases were due to EG.5. Now, 17.3 percent of cases are.
‘Collectively, available evidence does not suggest that EG.5 has additional public health risks relative to the other currently circulating Omicron descendent lineages,’ the WHO said in a risk evaluation.
A more comprehensive evaluation of the risk posed by EG.5 was needed, it added.
Despite the increase in Covid cases, rates remain at all-time lows. For comparison, at the peak of the US pandemic in January 2022, hospitalizations were as high as 150,674. This time last year, they were just over 44,000.
Recent deaths have also remained static and are at their lowest levels since Covid emerged, at around 500 per week.
Dr Jetelina’s mask recommendations come amid a swatch of recent evidence suggesting that Covid restrictions like mask-wearing have hampered growth and development in children.
A CDC report published earlier this year found that from 2019 to 2021, the amount of kids ages three to 17 diagnosed with any developmental disability increased from 7.4 percent to 8.5 percent. That’s a 17 percent increase.
And boys were twice as likely to have one than girls, with one in 10 being diagnosed. Boys also had higher rates of intellectual disability than girls, with 2.3 percent diagnosed compared to 1.4 percent.
Additionally, a paper published last January in the journal JAMA that looked at 225 children born in 2020 revealed babies were less likely to be crawling and smiling at themselves in a mirror within six months. It also showed they had reduced social and problem solving skills.
‘I understand the mind-set for, man, thank goodness that’s done,’ Dr Jetelina said.
‘But we do the public a disservice by rolling over, saying, let’s move on, because the truth is, the virus doesn’t care. COVID is obviously still here.’
‘It’s going to be with us. It’s going to cause disruptions. And it’s going to cause a lot of people to lose their lives.’