Public Health Essentials

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Mar 24

Joint statement on regional healthcare facilities’ masking requirement

Posted on March 24, 2023 at 1:54 PM by Kari Bray

Regional healthcare facilities across the Puget Sound region have issued a statement to continue universal masking in acute care and outpatient clinic settings

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

Local health jurisdictions in our region including the Snohomish County Health Department, Public Health – Seattle & King County, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Kitsap Public Health District, San Juan County Health Department, and Clallam and Jefferson County Public Health Departments fully support the decision by healthcare organizations to require masking in their facilities at this time in order to decrease the ongoing risk of COVID-19.

“Healthcare is not optional for many people, especially those at high risk for severe outcomes from respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. Masking is a critical intervention to protect high risk individuals seeking medical care. The potential inconvenience of putting on a mask is outweighed by the benefit in reducing the risk of transmission,” Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. James Lewis said. “COVID has had a disproportionate impact on older adults, immune-compromised individuals, and people who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC). Public Health has heard from many individuals in disproportionately impacted populations that they prefer masking in healthcare. Additionally, COVID-19 transmission is still active and, given availability and limited reporting of at-home tests, the case rate is likely much higher than what is reported. Finally, despite all we have learned about COVID-19, there is still a lot we don’t know, particularly regarding long-term health impacts or ‘Long COVID.’ Masking, along with vaccination and maximizing air quality and ventilation, are among our best tools. We are proud to support our healthcare partners who continue to require masking in their facilities.”

“In the Snohomish County Health Department building, we’re also maintaining a mask requirement for our clinical settings. And staff is prepared to mask as requested by colleagues or visitors to the building outside of clinical areas, as well,” Health Department Director Dennis Worsham said. “While the response to COVID is changing with the end of the Public Health Emergency and the Secretary of Health’s Mask Order, we need to remember that COVID is not gone. This still is a very contagious and potentially severe illness. Masking is an effective and relatively easy way to help our healthcare providers keep themselves and patients safe.”

Full statement from local health jurisdictions:

Statement on Regional Healthcare Facilities’ masking requirement to prevent spread of COVID-19

Healthcare facilities have been and continue to be on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing patient and healthcare worker health and safety. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is transmitted primarily through the air by small airborne and large respiratory droplets. Masking in high-risk settings has been central to help limit the spread of COVID-19 (as well as other respiratory viruses) along with other interventions such as vaccinations and attention to indoor air quality. 

Today, local and regional healthcare systems re-state their commitment to patient and healthcare worker safety by continuing masking requirements in their acute care and outpatient clinic facilities. This is important and appropriate because the current community burden of COVID-19 remains substantial and is underestimated by case reporting. The risk for severe disease associated with infection among vulnerable people who must visit health care settings (including older adults, people with weakened immune systems or many other underlying health conditions, pregnant woman and infants) is ongoing. In addition, there are no currently available preventive treatments for immunocompromise patients, and post-COVID-19 conditions and long-COVID are additional significant but poorly measured health impacts of COVID-19. 

For these reasons, local health jurisdictions in the Puget Sound region continue to recommend masking in healthcare facilities and we fully support this unified regional approach to decrease the risk for spread of COVID-19 in healthcare facilities. A regional consensus ensures a consistent and clear message that these healthcare facilities prioritize the health and safety of both their patients and employees. 

Masking recommendations and requirements for healthcare facilities should be reevaluated as we learn more about the direction and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic over time and about the potential benefits of masking routinely during future annual respiratory virus seasons during which SARS-CoV-2, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other respiratory viruses co-circulate. As our communities learn to live with COVID-19, focus will increasingly be on protecting those at highest risk for severe disease. Regional local health jurisdictions will continue to work with our healthcare partners to reduce the burden of disease both within healthcare facilities and the community at large.

A refresher on masks

Use the best-quality and best-fitting mask you can get. The masks that are best at filtering the virus are N95 and KN95, along with KF94 masks. For the best protection, wear a mask with a snug fit all around your cheeks and nose.

Masks protect the wearer and other people from getting COVID-19. When a person talks, coughs, sneezes, or even breathes, they are exposing the people around them to respiratory droplets, and even smaller particles called aerosols. Masks help prevent the particles that contain the virus from spreading. Masks can be helpful in situations where someone has been infected but doesn’t have symptoms of COVID-19, and they may unintentionally spread the virus.

Originally posted 3/24/2023