U.S. Health Officials Urge Indoor Masking in Major Cities as 'Tripledemic' Rages

As three highly contagious respiratory viruses spread across the United States, straining hospitals and triggering drug shortages, health officials in some major cities and states are calling for a return to indoor masking.

During the past few weeks, COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus have made millions of Americans ill, and indoor masking is seen as one way to slow the spread of the viruses.

In New York City, that means wearing face coverings in stores, on public transit, at schools, in child care facilities, and in other public shared or crowded public spaces, Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan, M.D., said in a news release announcing the health advisory. "The holiday season is about togetherness and there is a way to gather safely -- even as respiratory viruses in our city are unusually high," Vasan added. "It starts with protecting yourself. Vaccination and boosters are critical but so are common sense precautions like masking when indoors or among crowds and staying home if you don't feel well."

In Los Angeles County, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, M.D., has advised wearing masks indoors, saying that the county may mandate masks if cases and hospitalization require it. "Our shared goal during this pandemic has always been to reduce the burden of disease, hospitalization, and death and we all know it takes a community to do so," Ferrer said.

Meanwhile, Washington and Oregon health officials have advised similar measures. In Washington state, 25 hospital executives and 12 county health officers have asked residents to mask indoors, NPR reported, and the Oregon Health Authority has asked people to protect children and older adults by wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces.

The CDC advises that people living in areas that have a high risk for COVID-19 infection wear masks indoors. Right now, that is about 9 percent of U.S. counties. The only states where there are only low community levels of COVID-19 are Hawaii, Maine, and New Hampshire. Levels are also low in Washington, D.C. All other states have at least one county with high COVID-19 levels, NPR reported.