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February 27, 2024

Mask Mandates Return to Many US Hospitals Amid Rising COVID, Flu, and RSV

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Jan 6, 2024

As COVID-19 cases rise nationwide alongside upticks in influenza and RSV, a growing number of hospital systems are reinstating mask requirements to combat further spread. Major hospitals in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles have recently brought back masking protocols after loosening restrictions last year.

NYC Health + Hospitals Reinstate Mandate as Respiratory Viruses Surge

Citing substantial increases in COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), New York City’s public hospital system has reinstated mask requirements at its 11 hospitals. The rules apply to staff, patients, and visitors regardless of vaccination status.

Health + Hospitals spokesperson Stephanie Guzmán said the mask mandate “will remain in place until further notice” amid the “tripledemic” of respiratory illnesses. While COVID hospitalizations have not reached previous peaks, officials want to curb transmission among vulnerable patient populations.

The decision comes as New York state faces a 39% spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks. Wastewater surveillance indicates cases are proliferating locally in all five boroughs.

Massachusetts Hospital Groups Reinstate Universal Masking

Several leading hospital networks in Massachusetts have newly required masks for staff and encourage face coverings for visitors. These include Mass General Brigham, UMass Memorial Health, Baystate Health, Beth Israel Lahey Health, and Boston Medical Center.

COVID-19 viral loads detected in eastern Massachusetts wastewater have climbed to their highest points since last winter’s Omicron surge. Additionally, emergency departments are filled with patients suffering from flu and RSV, which are both spiking earlier than usual.

Dr. Eric Dickson, CEO of UMass Memorial, explained the masking rules aim to ease staffing shortages exacerbated by workers calling out sick. Protecting healthcare workers will ensure adequate capacity to treat the influx of patients with respiratory illnesses.

UMass will provide medical-grade masks to all employees working in patient care areas and requests they wear masks in all clinical spaces.

Chicago Hospitals Reinstate Mandates as Holiday Gatherings Drive Viral Spread

With the city hitting a high COVID-19 community risk level amid elevated flu and RSV, hospitals across Chicago have newly mandated masks for staff and visitors. These include Rush University Medical Center, UI Health, Endeavor Health, and Advocate Health Care.

The mask requirements come after holiday gatherings increased social mixing and drove further transmission of respiratory viruses. Public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Chicago is currently seeing three times more flu hospitalizations than usual for late December.

The cluster of illnesses is straining hospital capacity, according to Rush officials. Their mask rules intend to relieve pressure on emergency departments and protect immunocompromised patients. Staff must wear N95 or KN95 respirators in clinical areas.

“We are concerned about the rapid rise and impact of seasonal respiratory illnesses,” said Dr. Omar Lateef, Rush Medical Center CEO. The city’s hospital bed availability has fallen below 10% in recent days.

Southern California Officials Reinstate Mandates at Health Facilities

Marking a reversal of relaxed policies from last fall, Los Angeles County has newly required universal masking at healthcare and congregate settings like nursing homes in response to a winter viral surge.

The mask mandate comes as COVID-19 hospital admissions have tripled over the past month in LA County. Officials also aim to slow flu and RSV spread after confirmed cases doubled from November to December.

“The current COVID-19 indicators are concerning,” said public health director Barbara Ferrer, citing the increased spread of immune-evading Omicron subvariants. She implored residents to mask up in indoor public spaces as well.

California lifted its statewide mask order for hospitals and clinics on November 1st of last year. But some healthcare networks, like Kaiser Permanente, have kept requirements in place continuously throughout the pandemic.

Main Line Health Imposes Temporary Masking Amid Pa. Surge

The Main Line Health hospital system serving suburban Philadelphia has newly mandated medical-grade masks for all staff working in clinical areas. Visitors are also required to mask up amid what officials call a “confluence” of rising flu, RSV, and COVID-19 cases.

Main Line hospitals have seen up to a 400% month-to-month increase in RSV hospitalizations, per Dr. Patrick Gavigan. He expects the mask rules will last at least two weeks until local spread of viruses decreases.

While masks are currently required only at Main Line Health’s facilities, several other Pennsylvania hospital systems have reported rapidly rising admissions for respiratory illnesses and caution the trend may worsen after holiday exposures.

Gavigan cited the need to conserve testing supplies like rapid tests, which have faced shortages during prior COVID waves. Main Line will reserve PCR tests for patients with COVID symptoms or known exposures.

“Our priority is ensuring staff can safely care for all hospitalized patients,” said executive Jack Lynch on the new masking rules. Officials continue monitoring local transmission levels to determine when restrictions can be lifted.

Hospital System Location New Mask Mandate Details
NYC Health + Hospitals New York City Universal masking for all staff, patients, visitors
Mass General Brigham Boston, MA Required for staff, encouraged for visitors
UMass Memorial Health Central & Western MA Required for staff in patient areas
Rush University Medical Center Chicago, IL N95/KN95 required for staff in clinical areas
LA County Health Facilities Los Angeles, CA Universal masking required by county officials
Main Line Health Suburban Philadelphia, PA Medical-grade masks required for all staff

Overall, the return of mask mandates in major hospital systems across the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West Coast regions indicates the diffuse spread of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 viruses this winter. While recent mandates target only healthcare settings for now, broader indoor masking requirements could follow if illnesses continue rising post-holidays.

Officials cite ongoing circulation of highly contagious Omicron subvariants in combination with earlier flu and RSV outbreaks. This triple viral threat is expected to persist through January and potentially February, further straining hospital capacity nationwide.

In the meantime, health leaders strongly advise masking in crowded public spaces, staying home when sick, testing for COVID after exposures or symptoms, and getting updated COVID boosters plus annual flu shots for maximum protection. Continued vigilance around respiratory pathogens will be necessary to avoid healthcare system overload.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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