New York State Drops Face Mask Requirements For Hospitals, Health Care Facilities

From today onwards, if you walk into a hospital, medical clinic, or any other health care facility in New York state, you may or may not find people wearing face masks. That’s because the New York state government has allowed the face mask mandate that had been in place for health care facilities to lapse on February 12. So it is now up to each healthcare facility to determine whether they should continue requiring face masks because this whole Covid-19 pandemic thing is, you know, not over yet.

On February 10, John Morley, MD and Adam S. Herbst, Esq., two Deputy Commissioners at the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), issued a letter addressed to Chief Executive Officers and Administrators with the subject line: “NYSDOH Guidance for use of Face Masks and Face Coverings in Healthcare Facilities.” This letter indicated that “The New York State Department of Health affirms the importance of nonpharmacological infection prevention strategies in health care settings such as appropriate usage of well-fitting face masks” and that “All personnel, regardless of Covid-19 vaccination status, in a healthcare setting (i.e., facilities or entities regulated under Articles 28, 36, and 40 of the Public Health Law) should wear an appropriate face mask,” based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations. But recommending or urging something is not the same as requiring it. If you recall, once various businesses stopped requiring face mask use in 2021, many people started dropping face masks as if they were dirty underwear.

How did Mandate Masks NY, an advocacy organization, take this news? Well, if the title of their Substack post, “Mandate Masks NY condemns New York State’s decision to let the mask mandate expire for healthcare settings,” was any indication, not well.

Yeah, the word “condemns” usually doesn’t connote a positive response. For example, if someone condemns the jacket that you are wearing, you may want to consider wearing something else to a date. The Mandate Masks NY post indicated, “This decision puts all New Yorkers at risk, particularly people who are at higher risk and the most vulnerable. Ending the mask mandate in healthcare settings in the midst of continuing high Covid-19 transmission abandons the state’s responsibility for public health and endangers people’s lives.” If you want to find people who have weaker immune systems and thus are more susceptible to severe Covid-19, a healthcare facility is a good place to look. After all, most people don’t go to hospitals and other such healthcare settings just for the fun of it.

The Mandate Masks NY post also complained about the relative lack of lead time in notifying the public about this decision: “It is unacceptable that the decision to not renew the mask mandate for health care settings was made with only three days’ notice to the public, and without any input from community members, patients, and the people most impacted. There was no time for people to rush to get medical care while it was still safer, and no chance to reschedule appointments.”

Additionally, Mandate Masks NY is asking people to send letters to New York Governor Kathy Hochul, Acting Health Commissioner James McDonald, and New York State Senators and Assemblymembers to urge reinstatement of the mask mandate for healthcare settings:

As I’ve detailed previously for Forbes, multiple studies have shown that face masks can protect not only the wearer from the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) but also others from the wearer should the wearer be infected. Face masks can block much of the viruses coming out of their noses and mouths from going into the air. Yes, the viruses can go into the air and stay there because new flash, the SARS-CoV-2 can go airborne. Yet, so many political leaders have continued to deny the utility of face masks, as Kimberly Prather, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICECCI) and Distinguished Professor at the University of California-San Diego pointed out on Twitter:

In fact, many political leaders have politicized the heck out of face masks. Of course, not all face masks are created equal, just like not all clothes are created equal. You should never mistaken a thong for a Winter jacket. Similarly, a well-fitting and high quality face masks like an N95 respirator is going to offer a whole lot better protection than surgical and cloth masks as Prather indicated here:

The potential lack of face mask use in healthcare facilities could create a lot of challenging situations for patients. When doctors and other health professionals exam you, they typically have to get close to you, so that their noses and mouths are well within six feet of yours, unless they happen to have extraordinarily long arms. Barring the possibility that they are Inspector Gadget or Elastigirl from The Incredibles, this means that if they are carrying the SARS-CoV-2, they could end up infecting you.

Moreover, many healthcare settings can be rather crowded, chaotic, and not very well ventilated. They are not like what you see on television. If TV shows were to really replicate what emergency rooms and hospital were often like, the directors would have to bring on a whole lot more extras.

Furthermore, imagine having an upcoming medical appointment that you’ve waited weeks to make since securing an appointment in the year 2023 there seemed harder than getting BTS concert tickets. What do you do if you are at greater risk for Covid-19 and are now unsure about whether personnel at that clinic will be wearing face masks? Do you cancel that appointment with the risk of not finding a timely appointment elsewhere? Do you really have any other option given the short notice about the lifting of face mask mandates?

At this point, the only thing that you can do is pay close attention to whether your healthcare facility will be maintaining face mask requirements despite the state lifting its mandates. On February 12, Deanna Garcia reported for NY1 that “New York City’s public hospital system will continue mask requirements” but Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn will “lift the mask requirement in specific areas of the facility.”

The uncertainty about whether healthcare personnel will be wearing face masks while the Covid-19 pandemic is still going on could add more uncertainty and stress to already stressful interactions with the healthcare system. When you go to a clinic or hospital, chances are the words “relaxing” and “cool beans” aren’t on the top of your mind. You can’t mask the fact that there’s a good chance that someone somewhere in the healthcare facility is carrying the SARS-CoV-2.

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