Here We Go Again! Hospitals in Blue States Reinstating Mask Policies

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erwin Jacob Miciano

Most of us know that the cold and flu season is rapidly approaching. Most of us also know that we should take proper precautions. Things like hand-washing and staying home when you have symptoms or are not feeling well are the best ways to keep from getting sick. Even just doing simple things like getting enough sleep and eating healthy are important ways to ward off colds and the flu. This year, however, the CDC is throwing in an added extra when you go to get your annual flu shot and recommending getting the latest COVID-19 booster shot as well. Is there a suggestion by the CDC that COVID has become just another seasonal ailment to guard against? That is uncertain. But some hospitals are not taking any chances this year, and those hospitals, at least for right now, all seem to be in blue states.

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Three-and-a-half years after the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in the U.S., several hospitals around the nation are taking a trip down COVID memory lane and reinstating mask policies for both employees and visitors. In Massachusetts, Baystate Health is a health system that includes five hospitals, including a children's hospital. All employees and visitors are now required to wear a mask in all direct patient care areas in hospitals and the Cancer Center. Dr. Andrew Artenstein is the chief physician executive and chief academic officer. He cited a rise in COVID cases as the reason behind bringing back masks. He stated that the requirement will “protect the safety and health of [their] patients, visitors, and employees.” Dr. Erika Hamilton is a UMass microbiologist. While she cites other easily spread seasonal illnesses, she also cites increased cases and says other health systems may be soon to follow.

I think very shortly, you will see hospitals and doctors offices starting to roll out a mask mandate and this makes sense because COVID is not the only thing we spread when we cough or sneeze or talk.

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In Chicago, starting last Friday, University of Chicago Medical Center employees must wear a mask while having any contact with patients. A rising number of COVID cases was also cited for this decision. And in New Jersey, Cape Regional Medical Center is also requiring employees to wear masks, citing an “increase in the number of patients hospitalized with COVID at Cape Regional Medical Center as well as community members with COVID.”

It is probably a good idea for patients at the Massachusetts Cancer Center to wear masks this time of year because of the possibility of a compromised immune system. But hospital administrators who see an increase in COVID-19 cases and the onset of cold and flu season as the perfect storm may also see a reason to reinstate mask requirements. A recent Cochrane Library study showed that:

 Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of influenza‐like illness (ILI)/COVID‐19 like illness compared to not wearing masks...," and also that, "The use of a N95/P2 respirators compared to medical/surgical masks probably makes little or no difference for the objective and more precise outcome of laboratory‐confirmed influenza infection...

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The conclusion of the study stated that:

The pooled results of RCTs did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks. There were no clear differences between the use of medical/surgical masks compared with N95/P2 respirators in healthcare workers when used in routine care to reduce respiratory viral infection.

But even the results of a study do not appear to be stopping mask warriors. Barbara Ferrer is the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and stated that she would not rule out bringing back mask requirements, saying, “‘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." But wait, didn't President Joe Biden declare "this pandemic" to be over? 

Unfortunately for the COVID panic crowd, most Americans don't seem to be buying renewed hysteria in COVID-19. A recent Washington Times Op-Ed may echo the sentiments of many Americans and cites the Cochrane study. They view masks as an attempt at government control and, for the most part, are not likely to be forced into wearing masks again any time soon. If the nation's hospitals and health systems are going to "follow the science," maybe they should follow all the science.

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