The many forms of hospital masking

With masking policies now left in the hands of individual hospitals and health systems to decide, one thing is clear: There is no one-size-fits-all approach for the infection control measure this fall. 

Some hospitalshave implemented masking amid an uptick in COVID-19 activity; others have not. And among those that have, policies vary widely. 

Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., was among the first to reinstate its masking policy in August. The blanket mandate mirrors policies seen during the pandemic, requiring all staff, visitors and patients in clinical areas to mask. 

Other healthcare organizations are taking a more flexible approach, limiting mask rules to certain locations or stakeholders. For example, Cincinnati Children's Hospital is requiring all employees to wear masks effective Sept. 25. The health system is strongly recommending patients and visitors also wear masks, though it's not required.

Meanwhile, the University of Chicago Medical Center is requiring staff to wear masks when in direct contact with patients, while Augusta Health in Fishersville, Va., is only requiring masking in vulnerable hospital areas such as the emergency department or obstetric care departments.

Some hospitals have opted to put a timeline on masking policies. UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass., reinstated a mask mandate for staff Aug. 24 and is planning to revisit the policy in four weeks. If COVID-19 activity continues to rise, the organization said it would also implement mask rules for patients and visitors. 

The CDC dropped its universal masking guideline in September 2022, saying that healthcare facilities in areas without high transmission can decide whether to require patients, visitors and staff to wear face coverings. This May, the agency further loosened mask guidelines in accordance with the public health emergency's end, allowing hospitals to independently determine when and how to implement masking. 

The updated guidance says healthcare facilities should take a risk-based approach that considers various factors when determining when to implement universal masking, including local virus transmission, the types of patients cared for and stakeholder input. Universal masking should still be used when a unit or facility is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. 


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