Hospitals Reinstate Mask Mandate Amid Rising COVID-19 and Flu Cases

Hospitals Reinstate Mask Mandate Amid Rising COVID-19 and Flu Cases
03.01.2024

No large shift back to wearing masks in public is expected, but some health care facilities are exercising caution as respiratory diseases are spreading across the U.S.

Mask requirements and recommendations are making a comeback in some health care facilities as respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and influenza increase in the U.S.

Starting Tuesday, Mass General Brigham, the largest health system in Massachusetts, implemented its mask requirement for health care staff who directly interact with patients.

Masks during the pandemic took on a political dimension separate from their public health value, and some recent requirements have stopped short of mandates for the general public at these facilities.

“Patients and visitors will be strongly encouraged to wear a facility-issued face mask during direct interactions with staff in patient rooms and clinical care areas where direct care is provided. Patients and visitors do not have to mask if they prefer not to,” Mass General Brigham said in a statement.

Los Angeles County reinstated its mask requirement for staff and did include a directive for visitors at all licensed health care facilities.

“Over the past week in Los Angeles County, there have been notable, yet not unexpected, increases in COVID-19 reported cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement last week. “While recent increases are significant, they remain considerably below last winter’s peak and common-sense protections are strongly recommended to help curb transmission and severe illness as the new year begins.”

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, UW Health recently returned to requiring masks in medical clinics, outpatient care and waiting rooms.

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But no large shift back to wearing masks in public is expected, even as respiratory diseases are spreading across the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said that levels of both COVID-19 and flu are elevated and increasing in the U.S.

Tens of thousands of people are getting admitted to hospitals with respiratory illnesses each week. Emergency department visits for COVID-19 are highest among infants and older adults, according to the CDC.

However, hospital bed occupancy and capacity – including within intensive care units – remain stable nationally.

New COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are mostly caused by a new variant, JN.1. The strain is increasing in the U.S. However, the CDC assesses that “at this time, there is no evidence that JN.1 presents an increased risk to public health relative to other currently circulating variants.”

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