COVID Face Mask Mandates and Preemptive Bans


The discovery of new COVID variants and a relatively small increase in the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations have helped put face masks back in the spotlight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has told Newsweek it has noticed an “uptick in misinformation” around face masks in the media and on social media.

Two new COVID-19 variants—EG.5 and BA.2.86—have recently emerged. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified the former as a “variant of interest” earlier in August but reported that its risk to global public health is low.

According to the most recent statistics available from the CDC, there have also been an increasing number of COVID cases with 17,418 new COVID-19 hospital admissions for the week of August 26, 2023.

While the CDC has forecast the number of admissions will increase this month, these figures come nowhere near the hospitalizations seen previously. At its peak in mid-January 2022, the CDC reported more than 150,000 hospitalizations in one week.

In response, mask mandates have returned for some locations.

Are Mask Mandates Returning to America?

A man wears an American flag face mask on July 19, 2021, on a street in Hollywood, California. An uptick in cases has prompted concerns that mask mandates could be reintroduced.
Robyn Beck/AFP

Last week, health officials in California recently spoke about the possible return of mask mandates in the state amid a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases.

At a press conference, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer was asked about the potential return to mask mandates and if the county would ever make them mandatory again.

“‘Ever’ is not a word I’m comfortable with. There’s not that level of certainty with this pandemic. I’m never going to say there’s not going to be a time when we all need to put our masks back on. I am going to say we certainly don’t all need to put our masks back on now. We are at a place where people make their own assessment,” she said.

Newsweek recently reported on a small number of businesses and organizations that have introduced mask mandates following the increase in cases: Lionsgate, Kaiser Permanente in California, United Health Services in New York, Auburn Community Hospital in New York, and Upstate Medical’s hospitals in Syracuse, New York.

There have also been mask mandates at a small number of U.S. schools, including Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Maryland, Kinterbish Junior High School in Alabama, Talladega City Schools in Alabama, Dillard University in New Orleans, and Morris Brown College in Atlanta.

As of now, it does not appear that the U.S. government is likely to reintroduce federal mask mandates, such as the CDC’s January 2021 Order requiring their use on public transport. This order was later struck down in court, a Florida judge ruling it unlawful (although the ruling was vacated in June this year, reported Reuters).

The CDC said, “Rumors we’ve seen about plans for mask mandates are not true” when contacted by Newsweek for comment.

“Masking is just one of the tools people may choose to take to protect themselves if they wish, a spokesperson said.

“CDC continues to recommend that people stay up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines. People can choose to take a number of steps to protect themselves and others like getting tested, masking, and seeking treatment.”

Even President Joe Biden, whose wife First Lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID recently, joked with reporters on Wednesday about not wearing a face mask.

How Some Politicians Aim to Prevent Mandates

Republican Ohio Senator J.D. Vance recently announced he would introduce new legislation that would permanently prevent the federal government from reimposing federal mask mandates in the United States.

“We tried mask mandates once in this country. They failed to control the spread of respiratory viruses, violated basic bodily freedom, and set our fellow citizens against one another,” said Vance in a news release announcing the legislation. Read more on whether or not masks worked here.

“This legislation will ensure that no federal bureaucracy, no commercial airline, and no public school can impose the misguided policies of the past. Democrats say they’re not going to bring back mask mandates—we’re going to hold them to their word.”

However, there are no restrictions on the rights of businesses to introduce mask mandates within the bill, concentrating on the imposition on air carriers, public transit, and in educational settings.

The likelihood of Vance’s bill passing the Senate is undetermined, with Democrats holding a slim majority

Some states, however, have already made their own efforts to prevent mask mandates. Texas recently introduced a new ban on COVID-19 restrictions requiring individuals to wear face masks in public spaces.

The CDC, which oversees federal rulemaking around masking policies, told Newsweek last Thursday that it currently had no plan to revive COVID-era mask mandates.

The White House and the CDC have been contacted for comment.


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