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Central New York sees spike in viruses after mask mandates end

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We’re seeing an uptick in illnesses in central New York in the weeks since the masks mandates ended in schools and the community.

SUNY Upstate’s Golisano Children’s Hospital carefully monitors viruses in the community. Dr. Jana Shaw, a professor of pediatrics at SUNY Upstate, said doctors have been seeing more colds, common respiratory viruses, and cases of the seasonal flu.

She said now that the masks are off, viruses can widely circulate. For most children, it’s not a problem, but that’s not always the case.

“Not all children have the same defense mechanisms or are otherwise healthy,” said Shaw. “Children who have underlying heart disease or maybe diabetes or lung disease are at increased risk for severe complications, even with those common cold viruses or influenza."

She said for those children, or for their vulnerable family members, masking up can help reduce their risk of getting severely ill during this spike.

Shaw said the types of illnesses she’s seeing are pretty common this time of year, but the school mask mandates kept numbers low last spring.

“We never really want children to get sick and get infected, but at the same time, we have to recognize that being outside and playing with our children, being at school and being there in person is really important for healthy growth and development of our children,” said Shaw.

While Shaw said masks were critical to fighting the spread of COVID-19 when numbers were high in the community, she's not ready to say everyone should put masks back on.

“We are in a situation today where a large proportion of our population is immune to COVID-19 and therefore is unlikely to suffer severe consequences, so the decision to require masks should be really guided by the hospitalization rates," she said.

To keep those hospitalization rates low, she advises her patients, friends, and family members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.