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Why hospitals in several states are reinstating mask requirements

Some hospitals in the United States are reinstating indoor masking rules amid rising cases and hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19 and the flu.

Hospitals in at least six states — California, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin — have masking guidelines in place, according to an ABC News tally.

Over the weekend, Mass General Brigham, which is the largest health system in Massachusetts, told ABC News that it had issued guidelines requiring caregivers and those working in patient care areas to wear masks.

Another Massachusetts hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told ABC News it reinstated its masking requirement on Dec. 18 due to higher rates of respiratory illnesses.

Additionally, Cook County Health, which has hospitals and community health centers in and around Chicago, wrote on its website that it has begun requiring masks for all staff, patients and elderly visitors 2 years and older in waiting rooms and patient exam rooms on December 26.

Additionally, a Los Angeles County public health order, requiring all healthcare personnel to wear masks when in contact with patients or when working in patient care areas, went into effect after the county’s hospital admission level for COVID-19 reached the “medium” threshold. or between 10 and 19.9 new hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants.

People wear face masks as they travel on a subway train in New York, June 7, 2023.

Gary Hershorn/ABC News

Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor, said hospitals are overflowing with patients and staff at risk for severe illness, which is why the mask guidelines have been reintroduced as cases increase.

“Ultimately, health systems, hospitals and places that provide care are going to be home to some of the most vulnerable and at-risk people, many of whom have underlying conditions,” he said. . “These are particularly the places where we want to protect individuals and so, in the face of this rapid increase in respiratory illnesses, these will be the first places to try to use measures to reduce the risks of transmission, both to protect patients , those who receive care, as well as the workforce.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 31 states, plus Washington, D.C., are experiencing “high” or “very high” levels of respiratory disease activity, described as people visiting their primary care offices or emergency services. with respiratory problems such as fever, sore throat or cough

In the week ending Dec. 23, the latest date for which data is available, there were 29,059 new weekly hospital admissions due to COVID-19, according to the CDC. This is the seventh consecutive week of increase and the highest figure recorded since the end of January 2023.

Meanwhile, there were 14,732 new flu-related hospital admissions for the week ending Dec. 23, compared to 9,930 the week before, according to CDC data.

Brownstein said the increase is not surprising given that the United States is in the midst of respiratory virus season, in combination with recent holiday travel and gatherings.

“While there is nothing unusual about what we are seeing, the data still reflects an increase in illness and, as we know, masking will be helpful regardless of the respiratory pathogen: RSV, COVID, flu and other respiratory pathogens that are present,” he said. “So it’s kind of a universal strategy.”

PHOTO: Michael Nason and Donna Nason wear face masks at Union Station on August 31, 2023, in Los Angeles.

Michael Nason and Donna Nason wear masks at Union Station on August 31, 2023, in Los Angeles.

Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Because an increase in respiratory illnesses risks straining the health care system, Brownstein recommends staying home when sick and seeking treatment if symptoms worsen or don’t improve.

“Of course we are in a situation where there are a lot of illnesses among the population, but we want to make sure we limit the impact on hospitals and save care for those who particularly need it,” he said. he declared. “If people need to use emergency services, they absolutely should, but we’re in a time right now where capacity is definitely a major focus for hospitals trying to both maintain capacity to care for patients with serious illnesses and results from these pathogens, but also be able to manage routine care.”

ABC News’ Youri Benadjaoud, Dr. Chris Medrano and Sony Salzman contributed to this report.

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