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Mask mandates return as COVID-19 cases rise across U.S.

CBS News logo CBS News 4/11/2022 Megan Cerullo

Columbia University is again requiring its students to mask up in classrooms, with public health experts urging caution as COVID-19 case numbers climb across the U.S. 

The university's head of COVID-19 protocols over the weekend announced the change, citing increased infections in the local area. The disease's resurgence in New York City after cases had fallen sharply earlier this year was punctuated on Sunday when Mayor Eric Adams tested positive for the virus. 

The virus is also flaring elsewhere around the U.S. More than two dozen states across the country reported a jump in cases over the last eight days, although hospitalizations and deaths have not seen a commensurate rise. Nearly 1 million Americans have died of COVID-19, with an average of 500 people succumbing to the disease every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Monday, Columbia is requiring that students wear non-cloth masks in classrooms, according to a student-run news site. The mask mandate, which will remain in place through the remainder of the spring semester, applies to all students, but not to professors, for whom masks are optional.  

"As has been our policy all year, instructors have the option to remove their masks while teaching. Current policies on masking in all other settings continue unchanged," the university's COVID-19 director, Donna Lynne, said in a statement. 

The move comes after Barnard College, a women's undergraduate college affiliated with Columbia, reinstated its indoor mask rule on April 6. Barnard is requiring that students wear face coverings in classrooms, dining halls, study spaces and at Columbia-sponsored events, according to the same student publication. 

Barnard started requiring masks again after the college saw a spike in cases after its previous mask mandate was lifted on March 28, causing COVID-19 symptoms and absences among community members. 

27 states report rise in COVID infections in past 8 days 02:33 © Provided by CBS News 27 states report rise in COVID infections in past 8 days 02:33

Columbia and Barnard aren't alone in reimposing coronavirus precautions. At least two other universities — Georgetown in Washington, D.C., and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland — are asking students to mask up again. Georgetown announced the reinstatement of a temporary indoor mask mandate on beginning April 7 in response to a significant rise in cases on campus. The requirement will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, according to Georgetown

Johns Hopkins also reinstated its mask mandate on April 7 after roughly 100 undergraduate students tested positive for COVID-19 in less than a week. 

Philadelphia health commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a press conference on Monday that residents would have to dig up their masks again. The city will enforce a mask mandate starting April 18, requiring people to wear facial coverings inside all businesses in Philadelphia.

Bettigole noted that COVID-19 cases have increased by more than 50% in a 10-day span. Although hospitalizations remain low due to COVID-19, she expects another wave of the disease linked to the Omicron BA.2 subvariant, which is now dominant in the U.S.

"If we do that, we can literally save the lives of vulnerable Philadelphians," she said, adding that by wearing masks residents can "continue to take part in the life of the city without increasing transmission."

Gottlieb says U.S. "dramatically undercounting" new COVID-19 cases 07:00 © Provided by CBS News Gottlieb says U.S. "dramatically undercounting" new COVID-19 cases 07:00

Some Philadelphia business owners have objected to mask rules, saying they cause tension between them and customers who don't wish to cover their faces. But Bettigole reiterated that business and public health interests are actually aligned. 

"In the interest of keeping the economic life of the city flowing, the best thing we can do is keep cases down," she said, while noting that establishments still requiring proof of vaccination for entry do not also have to require masks. 

Elsewhere in New York City, Broadway theaters continue to require that audience members wear masks. Even with the rule in place, shows are cancelling performances due to actors testing positive for COVID-19. 


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