Soaring COVID-19 cases renew US debate over mask mandates

FILE - Teachers protest for stronger COVID-19 safety protocols outside Oakland Unified School District headquarters on Jan. 7, 2022, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Officials across the U.S. are again weighing how and whether to impose mask mandates as COVID-19 infections soar and the American public grows ever wearier of pandemic-related restrictions.

Much of the debate centers around the nation's schools, some of which have closed due to infection-related staffing issues. In a variety of places, mask mandates are being lifted or voted down.

The changes come as the federal government assesses the supply of medical-grade respirator face coverings, such as N95 or KN95 masks. During a briefing Wednesday, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said officials were "strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans," noting the government has a stockpile of more than 750 million N95 masks.

The best mask "is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings," said Dr.