Puget Sound-area health care facilities will continue requiring masks

Puget Sound-area health care facilities will continue requiring masks

Patients, staffers and visitors will continue to be required to mask up inside many health care clinics and facilities throughout the Puget Sound region, a group of Washington hospital and public health leaders decided Friday.

About 20 public health departments and health care systems around the region made the announcement a couple weeks before the state’s remaining indoor masking requirements are set to come to an end on April 3. Most of the Department of Health’s masking mandates have expired, except those in health care or correctional facilities.

Now, the organizations are “working together to establish an approach for continued masking in health care facilities” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the statement said.

Health departments from King, Snohomish, Tacoma, Kitsap, San Juan, Clallam and Jefferson counties have signed on to support the recommendation, in addition to hospital leaders from UW Medicine, Seattle Children’s, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, MultiCare Health System and Kaiser Permanente Washington.

“This is important and appropriate because the current community burden of COVID-19 remains substantial and is underestimated by case reporting,” Public Health – Seattle & King County said.

The department added that the risk for developing severe COVID symptoms remains high for those who are older, those with underlying health conditions and those who are pregnant — who all might visit health care settings on a more regular basis.

“Unlike many other activities, health care is not optional, but essential; and every patient deserves to feel safe from acquiring a preventable infection when seeking health care,” the organizations wrote.

In addition, patient care areas often “bring people close together leading to increased exposure risk and transmission of COVID-19,” the statement said. “Masks mitigate the spread of infection in these settings, including when people have minimal or no symptoms.”

Because there are no available preventive COVID treatments for immunocompromised patients, public health leaders felt it was important to extend the requirement.

“A regional consensus ensures a consistent and clear message that these healthcare facilities prioritize the health and safety of both their patients and employees,” the statement said.

The organizations said masking recommendations and requirements for health care facilities should be reevaluated from time to time as scientists continue to learn about the spread of the disease. They plan to determine new recommendations by early July.

Until then, public health leaders reminded residents to use high-quality and well-fitting masks that can fit around your nose and mouth, particularly N95, KN95 and KF94 masks.

“Masking is an important way we can help make visiting healthcare facilities safer for the many people in our community of all ages who are at increased risk for severe infections,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s public health officer, said in the statement.