https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/healthcare/mask-mandates-loom-again-after-regional-covid-19-outbreaks

Regional spikes in COVID-19 cases have raised questions about whether public health officials will reinstate pandemic-era restrictions — and whether the public is prepared to comply with them.

Philadelphia officials are reportedly considering bringing back indoor mask mandates amid an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

City officials are set to announce the revival of indoor mask requirements as soon as Monday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, as COVID-19 metrics hit the levels city public health authorities laid out for reinstituting restrictions.

Two prominent universities reinstated masking and testing requirements this week amid an uptick in positive cases among students.

Georgetown University, in the nation’s capital, brought back a mask mandate in public buildings on its main campus. The school’s top medical official cited a substantial rise in COVID-19 cases among undergraduates.

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Georgetown students will also have to submit to COVID-19 testing before they can return to campus from the Easter break.

In nearby Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University also brought back masking and testing mandates amid a surge in cases. The school will require students to submit for COVID-19 tests twice a week until April 22 and wear masks in dormitories, cafeterias, and classrooms.

The high-profile outbreak of cases in Washington, D.C., has thrown the spotlight back on the spread of the virus.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and a handful of congressional lawmakers have all announced positive COVID-19 tests over the past several days.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s defense of allowing President Joe Biden, who spent time in close proximity to Pelosi at an event just before she tested positive, to continue appearing in public unmasked quickly drew ridicule this week.

Psaki insisted that Biden did not need to self-isolate because his interactions with Pelosi did not meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of a “close contact” despite footage and widely circulated photographs that show Biden embracing Pelosi and kissing her on the cheek.

The episode this week was a stark reminder of how volatile public health recommendations have been throughout the pandemic.

People have abandoned their fears about COVID-19 rapidly since the height of the omicron wave.

An Axios-Ipsos poll published in March showed that 64% of people said the government should lift all COVID-19 restrictions — a 20-point jump from just one month earlier.

Only one-third of adults in the most recent Morning Consult surveys said they are “very” concerned about the virus. In December, nearly two-thirds of adults said they were “very” concerned.

By late January, polls were finding people ready to treat COVID-19 as part of the background of everyday life. A January Monmouth University poll found that 70% of people agreed with the statement: “It’s time we accept that COVID-19 is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.”

Some liberal cities and states have only enjoyed a few weeks of normalcy, however.

Students in Washington, D.C., public schools were only permitted to remove their masks in the classroom March 16.

Hawaii became the final state to lift its mask mandate, doing so March 26.

And other major cities have only allowed patrons to dine in restaurants or exercise in gyms without showing proof of vaccination for just a few weeks.

The new omicron variant, known as BA.2, is regarded by experts as highly transmissible, although scientists haven’t yet said whether they consider it more dangerous than the original omicron variant.

Under political pressure earlier this year as Democrats sensed the appetite for restrictions was waning even among their most loyal voters, the Biden administration changed public health guidelines in a way that allowed for most restrictions to end, even though COVID-19 metrics hadn’t shifted enough to warrant it under the existing guidance.

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Republicans have seen Democrats’ nearly two-year embrace of school closures and mask mandates as a powerful political weapon heading into the midterm elections. They’ve signaled plans to tie the party nationally to any remaining COVID-19 mandates, making party leaders wary of expressing support for any return to mandates.

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