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More hospitals revive mask policies, as flu, COVID, RSV cases rise

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New York’s public hospitals issued a masking policy in patient areas, and other health systems in several states have required staff and visitors to wear masks in recent weeks.

With more patients being admitted to hospitals with the flu, COVID-19, and RSV, more hospitals and health systems are requiring masking.

(Image credit: ©Supachai - stock.adobe.com)

Hospitals in several states are requiring staff, visitors and patients to wear masks due to rising flu, COVID-19 and RSV cases. (Image credit: ©Supachai - stock.adobe.com)

NYC Health + Hospitals, which operates the city’s 11 public hospitals, has reinstated its mask policy, ABC7 in New York reports.

New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan told ABC7 masks are required in areas where patients are being treated, and the policy is designed to ensure the system can maintain staffing as more patients are getting sick.

Health systems and hospitals around the country have imposed mask policies beginning in late December. Perhaps anticipating pushback from individuals who object to masking, some health systems are stressing the policies are temporary.

As of Dec. 30, more than 235,000 patients visited emergency departments nationwide due to the flu, COVID, or RSV, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 172,000 during the week of Dec. 16, according to CDC data.

Mandy Cohen, the CDC’s director, told the Associated Press, “What we’re seeing right now, in the first week of January, is really an acceleration — of flu cases, in particular.” The CDC has said much of the increase coincides with seasonal spikes of flu and RSV. Federal officials have also bemoaned low vaccination rates of flu shots and the latest COVID-19 booster.

Los Angeles County issued a requirement Saturday for staff and visitors to wear masks in all healthcare facilities, ABC 7 in Los Angeles reports.

The Maryland Department of Health has advised hospitals, clinics, outpatient facilities and long-term care facilities to resume masking policies due to the rise of COVID-19 cases, according to WYPR in Baltimore.

Mass General Brigham this week began requiring all of its clinicians and staff to wear masks while interacting with patients. The system also says patients and visitors will be encouraged to mask when interacting with staff, but it is not required.

Duke Health in North Carolina this week began requiring visitors in “high-risk clinical areas” to wear masks.

Lifespan Health in Rhode Island is requiring visitors in its hospitals to wear masks during patient care, and in the exam rooms of medical offices.

Hospitals and health systems in Chicago, including Rush, Cook County Health, and Endeavor Health, are requiring patients and visitors to wear masks in at least some areas of their facilities, WLS-TV reports.

Main Line Health in the Philadelphia region implemented a temporary masking policy beginning Thursday, and the policy will be in effect at hospitals, physicians’ offices and ambulatory care centers for at least two weeks. Patients, visitors and staff are required to wear masks.

Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey is requiring staff, visitors and patients to wear masks during patient care encounters at hospitals, physicians’ offices and rehabilitation facilities. The policy took effect Dec. 27.

UPMC in Pennsylvania last month began requiring staff, visitors, and patients to wear masks at the system’s facilities, including hospitals, clinics, outpatient medical centers and senior living facilities. UPMC cited the rise in respiratory illnesses.

UW Health in Wisconsin is requiring patients, staff and visitors to wear masks for patient interactions in clinic settings. UW Health imposed the new requirements Dec. 19.

MultiCare Health System, based in Tacoma, Washington, issued a requirement Dec. 18 for staff, patients and visitors to wear masks in hospitals and emergency departments in the Spokane region.

Some health systems, such as Novant Health, have been restricting visitation from children to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. Novant has also said masks remain optional for visitors.

The CDC says the JN.1 variant of COVID-19 is poised to become the most prevalent variant nationally. The agency says there’s no evidence to suggest that the variant is any more serious health risk with JN.1 than with other variants. The World Health Organization declared JN.1 to be a “variant of interest” last month, although the WHO also says the overall public health risk remains low.

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