U.S. Hospitals Shield Staff and Patients: Mask Mandates Reimposed Over COVID and Flu Surge

Across the country, hospitals continue enforcing masking requirements amid a rise in cases of COVID-19, seasonal flu, and other respiratory illnesses. Some private institutions, hospital operators, and colleges reintroduced mask mandates after cases appeared to level off in early fall. New York, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts have made masks mandatory for patients and providers.

Some hospital systems require that all staff, including visitors, wear masks, even when not directly caring for patients. At the same time, others have relaxed their policies to allow workers to choose whether or not to put on a mask. The decision to reinstate mask requirements is typically based on an assessment of the rate of respiratory illness among staff and the public.

The CDC has noted that flu and RSV hospital admissions have been rising rapidly nationwide. The agency also says it’s unclear if the COVID-19 pandemic has passed its peak, but it’s still hazardous.

While flu hospitalization rates appear to be increasing, a recent study found that counties without mask mandates experienced twice as many COVID-19 deaths as those with them in place. The researchers said it was essential to remember the current outbreak when comparing flu-related deaths to those seen earlier in the pandemic.

According to NBC News, hospitals in at least four US states have reinstated mask mandates. On Wednesday, the New York City Health Commissioner told WABC TV that masks had resumed at all 11 public hospitals, 30 health centers, and five long-term care facilities. NYC H+H officials said that masks are now required for visitors and staff in any clinical area of the hospitals and all outdoor areas.

A hospital spokesman in Spokane, Wash., tells NBC that the hospital system is not close to meeting its COVID-19 or RSV targets, but it could reintroduce masking when its infection rate rises. “Our goal is to protect our staff and patients,” the spokesman said. “We have to balance the risk versus protection.”

The mid-Hudson News reports that some healthcare facilities, such as the Nuvance Health medical system in Danbury, Conn., have emailed patients, visitors, and employees urging them to use masks. Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, NY, has also advised patients and visitors to wear masks, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital strongly encourages its staff to do so.

In Illinois, the state’s Department of Public Health has instructed hospital staff to wear masks, but it has removed a ban on patients wearing masks in their rooms. The state’s medical colleges and universities will continue to require that students, faculty members, and other employees wear masks in the classroom or on campus. The CDC has recommended that other institutions consider following suit, though only mandating them for some on campus. The CDC has previously warned against imposing strict rules discouraging people from seeking hospital treatment.

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