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NY state health recommend masks at schools as flu, COVID-19, RSV spread

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New York state health and education officials have sent a letter to school districts with recommendations, including wearing masks indoors, in response to the area’s growing number of flu, COVID-19 and RSV cases.

“A host of respiratory viruses, including influenza, RSV and COVID-19, have taken hold in our state and in most of our communities. These viruses, while often manageable, can cause serious outcomes, especially for children,” said the letter signed by Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and Education Commissioner Betty Rosa.

Recently, a surge in pediatric RSV cases has overwhelmed hospitals. Sen. Chuck Schumer has called on the Department of Health and Human Services to intervene, saying hospitals, especially upstate, need additional support.

Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Long Island recently added 75 beds for children needing to be hospitalized for RSV. Some doctors say they’ve seen patients with multiple viruses at the same time.

“Because if you have one, you already have a very weak immune system,” said Dr. Muneeb Khan.

While COVID numbers are up in the Tri-State Area, the flu has led the way in terms of hospitalizations.

“The number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases has nearly tripled over the past three weeks and flu hospitalizations have more than doubled,” the letter continued. “In response, we are urging a community-wide approach, inclusive of schools, to again take precautions this holiday season and winter that can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses and protect young children, older individuals, and those with underlying health conditions.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul recently encouraged residents to get their flu shot and COVID booster.

“Only 13% of the population over 5 has received a booster shot,” she said.

In addition to wearing masks indoors, the recommendations include staying up to date on vaccines, washing hands for at least 20 seconds, not coughing or sneezing directly into hands, and staying home when sick.

Columbia University Medical Center’s medical director for primary care told CBS2 he welcomes the new recommendations.

“Flu is going crazy. It’s tripled in the last three weeks,” Dr. David Buchholz said. “It’s wearing masks, washing hands, covering the mouth with the elbow when you cough, maybe some social distancing. All back to basics to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses.”

But what do parents think? It depends who you ask.

“I guess it’s a good idea, because it’s coming again — the virus. COVID is coming back,” Rosendo Martinez said.

“They can recommend whatever they want, and I think the parents have the last say in terms of what their kids do regarding their health,” said Yiaton Chu.

The CDC’s latest COVID Data Tracker report recommended masks indoors in five New York counties, encompassing Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and all of Long Island.

Thursday, the FDA authorized Moderna’s and Pfizer’s updated COVID-19 booster shots for kids ages 6 months old to 5 years old.

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