Some Hospitals Are Putting Mask Mandates Back In Action

With respiratory infections including COVID-19 increasing around the country, there are some health systems that are reinstating mask requirements so the spread of the infections doesn’t get too bad.

Massachusetts’ largest health system, Mass General Brigham, announced that any staff member who directly interacts with patients would have to wear a mask at their clinical care locations as of January 2. Staff won’t be forced to wear masks while they’re either in common areas or in hallways.

While visitors and patients to the clinical care facilities of the health system won’t be required to wear masks, they are “strongly encouraged” to do so. The health system also says it will provide the masks to people.

The system issued a statement this week that said it was instituting this policy based on the percentage of patients who arrive at emergency departments and outpatient clinics with symptoms of a respiratory illness.

The system said that once that figure was more than 2.85% for two weeks in a row, the requirement to wear masks went into effect. The requirement will end, they said, once the number falls below 2.85% for one week.

Once the federal government finally ended the public health emergency around COVID-19, a majority of hospitals either eased or completely eliminated their requirements that visitors, patients and staff wear masks. That all happened this past spring.

But, now that cases of respiratory illness are on the rise as the winter begins, many major health systems are doing what they can to prevent another catastrophe.

Another major hospital in Boston, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, also reinstated mask requirements for all staff and patients back on December 18. When it put that policy back into place, it said it would be doing so for the “foreseeable future.”

It also said at the time that it wasn’t using a single data point to gauge when they might end the requirement of wearing masks.

In a statement posted to its website, the hospital said:

“We check a number of different data points, including rates of influenza-like illness, staff absenteeism, and emergency room visits and hospitalizations caused by respiratory viruses. We will lift the mask requirement when these data points remain consistently lower.”

Similar policies are being put in place in Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin.

Media outlet The Hill reported that the largest rehabilitation hospital in the D.C. region is now requiring that all patients who get admitted plus all staff members must wear masks. Visitors aren’t required to do so, though, and people who are in outpatient areas don’t have to either.

The Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital said this was being done to protect their staff, since there’s been such a big increase in positive COVID-19 tests among patients who are admitted. This has led to an increase in how much exposure patients give to their staff members.

UW Health in Wisconsin also now requires masks to be work in all waiting rooms, outpatient care facilities and medical clinics.