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29 Nov 22 74 0 0

The COVID-19 Pandemic & More: Respiratory viruses on the rise (again), mask mandates work, and more

Cool Story - The COVID-19 Pandemic & More: Respiratory viruses on the rise (again), mask mandates work, and more

The COVID-19 update for Colorado is no longer timely and comforting. From 218 the week of November 1 to 379 the week of November 15, hospitalizations increased. To put things in perspective, keep in mind that April's low was 77 and that prior heights exceeded 1,800. Other indicators have also changed negatively: test positivity is at 11.8%, and virus concentrations in wastewater are rising all over the state. With diminishing BA.5 and increasing BQ.1, the mix of variations is changing. As SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread, reproduce, and evolve, the variant alphabet soup will unavoidably shift.

And as the unprecedented RSV outbreak persists, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continues to be a serious issue, especially for babies and young children.

RSV hospitalizations have increased at an astounding rate and much more abruptly than in previous years. Although the influenza outbreak is still in its early stages, hospitalizations for influenza are also rising at a rate that resembles that of former years with high peaks. Even though there is now a lot of uncertainty, the simultaneous peaking of influenza, RSV, and COVID-19 epidemic curves would put a strain on hospital capacity, especially for the pediatric age range. As usual, more time will lead to more clarity regarding the possible threat posed by a "tripledemic."

In the public health initiatives to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of required respiratory protection in schools—also known as "mask mandates"—has been a politically charged flashpoint.

Along with better ventilation, air cleansing, and ultraviolet C, masks are one of the most important instruments in the toolkit for preventing the spread of airborne infectious agents in educational settings. The management of indoor settings in schools was the topic of discussion at a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine session that I previously wrote about. Participants in the workshop viewed masks to use as a viable alternative and discussed the difficulties in successfully implementing the entire toolkit.

Real-world evidence of the effectiveness of school mask laws is provided in a recently published research in the New England Journal of Medicine. The investigators compared infection rates across 72 school districts to determine the impact of the patchy cessation of mask regulations in Massachusetts following the expiration of a statewide mandate in February 2022.

Two of these school districts (Boston and Chelsea) continued to require masks, while the others did so gradually over three weeks. To demonstrate the effectiveness of school-wide mask mandates, the researchers utilized a difference-in-differences approach. This method compares the infection rates in the remaining 70 school districts with those in the two "treatment" school districts (Boston and Chelsea), both before and after the three weeks during which the mandates were loosened. Before the statewide mandate's relaxation, the infection rates in the two groups were comparable, but subsequently, they diverged—remaining lower in the two school districts that upheld the mandates. An estimate of the causal effect of mask mandates on infections is provided by this approach, which controls time-varying factors that could affect the infection rate in children and staff in school districts.

Public Health Thank You Day is an annual event sponsored by the American Public Health Association and Research! America to honor the public health professionals who relentlessly work to safeguard the health of all individuals and communities. Every day should be devoted to giving thanks for the fortitude and commitment of the public health staff, but today is especially deserving given the current level of stress that they are facing. Reach out to coworkers and express your gratitude simply because we all could use it in light of current global events.

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