Keep Mask Mandate in Healthcare Settings
The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton-Swing Left Western MA.
Despite our nation being divided when it comes to Covid-19 policies, one would hope that common sense would prevail to protect the most vulnerable people in our society. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), four in ten U.S. adults have two or more chronic diseases, putting them at high risk for Covid. The elderly, the very young, and those who are immunocompromised are among the most vulnerable.
In fact, all people have a right to be safe in healthcare settings.
Yet, unless the public demands action, mask mandates in healthcare settings – hospitals, nursing homes, and medical offices – are being lifted with the end of the Federal Public Health Emergency.
We must demand that people use “best practices” in our healthcare settings. Universal masking by staff and patients is the wise and effective approach. Data show that effective masks offer good protection against this airborne virus. Despite disinformation about masks and the recent misinterpretations of the Cochrane study, masks are effective when they are high quality (e.g., N95, KN95) and properly fitted and worn. Moreover, universal masking is more effective than one-way masking. In addition, healthcare settings – hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices – are struggling with staff shortages. Universal masking will reduce the number of staff who get sick and are absent due to illness. This helps everyone.
Some hospitals plan to rely on community data to determine if and when masks are needed. Unfortunately, this is poor policy because we do not have effective and reliable Covid tracking systems. Many places have reduced resources or have stopped tracking altogether; home tests are rarely counted; and fewer people may opt to get PCR tests if the costs are no longer covered, which will also contribute to an undercount of cases.
Effective public health policy means looking out for the community, not solely one’s individual health. Yet, with Covid, the ideology is often “individual choice, individual risk assessment.” While this logic may work to some degree in settings such as restaurants and stores, it is not effective for healthcare settings where people often do not have a choice to be elsewhere. We certainly do not want a repeat of the tragic high death toll from Covid at healthcare facilities, such as the Veterans’s Home in Holyoke, MA, where nearly 80 people died in one of the nation’s worst Covid outbreaks. Nor do we want people to avoid seeking necessary healthcare for fear of catching Covid in an unmasked setting.
Asking everyone to wear effective masks in healthcare settings to protect others, especially those at higher risk due to age and/or health vulnerabilities, is the ethical and effective public health approach. Recently, multiple hospitals in Washington State have decided to keep their mask mandates in place. Hopefully, many more institutions and offices will voluntarily do the same.
Please contact your local, state, federal legislators, and governor, and your local healthcare institutions, and ask them to continue mask mandates in healthcare settings. It is the common sense and ethical way to save lives.