Visitor restrictions come back at some hospitals

Some hospitals and health systems have recently implemented visitor restrictions, citing an increase of respiratory virus activity in their facilities or in the communities they serve.

Helena, Mont.-based St. Peter's Health said it was implementing visitor restrictions beginning Oct. 2 at Regional Medical Center amid a steady increase of flu, COVID-19 and other common cold virus activity in the community. Restrictions apply to children 12 and younger as well as anyone experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms, unless that person is seeking care. This applies in the hospital's emergency department as well. 

"Our number one priority is the safety of our patients and staff," Shelly Harkins, MD, chief medical officer at St. Peter's Health, said in the release. "We are taking a very proactive approach in protecting our workforce and instituting these changes ahead of peak virus season. It's our job to help prevent the spread of viruses and protect those who are immunocompromised, like the elderly, young children and those who are ill or undergoing medical treatments in our facilities." 

Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville, N.C., began limiting visitation in its pediatric emergency department in late September due to a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases. During the first week of September, there were around a dozen cases in the children's emergency department. For the week ending Sept. 16, that number grew to 45. The adjusted visitation rules mean only one parent or guardian is allowed in the waiting room with pediatric patients in the ED, down from the previous limit of two. The adjustment is also meant to help ease crowding issues in the emergency waiting room, a health system official said. 

UI Health, part of the University of Illinois Chicago, also adjusted its patient visitation guidelines Sept. 17. Patients are allowed two visitors — who must be 18 or older unless an exception is granted by the patient's clinical team — between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

CDC data shows COVID-19 admissions across the U.S. fell for the second week straight as of Sept. 23. The decline in COVID-19 metrics comes after about three months of steady increases in hospitalizations. However, based on past trends, experts predict the nation could see another winter uptick in December or January — the same time of the year flu tends to peak. Hospitalizations for flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus are projected to peak at the end of January, according to life science analytics company Airfinity. 

Meanwhile, at least 21 hospitals and health systems have reinstated mask policies since August. With mask policies now left in the hands of individual facilities, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for the infection control measure. For example, some organizations that have brought back masks have issued a more blanket rule, requiring all staff, visitors and patients in clinical areas to mask, while others have limited mask rules to certain locations or situations. 

St. Peter's Health did not say it was reinstating mask rules at Regional Medical Center but said anyone experiencing any flu-like symptoms should don one. Cape Fear Valley Health and UI Health have similar mask policies in place. 


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