Public Health Essentials

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Sep 26

Regional healthcare organizations adopt masking guidelines as respiratory virus season approaches

Posted on September 26, 2023 at 12:30 PM by Kari Bray

Healthcare facilities in the region have joined together voluntarily to prioritize the health and safety of patients and employees by adopting interim thresholds for universal masking in hospitals and outpatient clinics.  

When thresholds are crossed, which indicates increased regional respiratory illness activity and impact, masking by staff and patients will be required in patient care areas for healthcare facilities participating in the agreement. 

The Snohomish County Health Department joins other local health jurisdictions in fully supporting the data-informed decision by healthcare organizations to require masking in their facilities when thresholds for increased respiratory illness activity are reached.  

Masking is an effective way to reduce transmission of respiratory illness in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. These masking practices will help protect people in healthcare settings, particularly those who are at high risk such as older adults, those with chronic disease and immunocompromising conditions, pregnant people, infants, as well as those who experience inequities in health care.   

Regional healthcare organizations convened over several months to review data sources that indicate when transmission of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or COVID-19 are at increased levels in the community. As described by the organizations that have signed on to the agreement, healthcare organizations will require masking when the first of the following thresholds is reached: 

These thresholds are the upper limit for participating organizations to institute universal masking in their facilities, and these organizations may choose to implement universal masking sooner based on their own decision making.  

The strategy will be evaluated and adjusted over time in order to achieve the greatest utility.

“The pandemic highlighted that masking can have a major impact on respiratory virus transmission. Based on what we learned during the pandemic, as well as realizing that we likely greatly underestimated rates of healthcare-acquired respiratory viral infections prior to the pandemic, it is time to re-evaluate our approach to masking in healthcare settings,” Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. James Lewis said. “This consensus by healthcare organizations uses a data-informed approach to try and implement masking during times of higher transmission to protect our most vulnerable community members in settings they must access for their own health. It also protects our healthcare workforce, which is still extremely overburdened from the effects of the pandemic.”

Regional emergency department visit data will be published by participating public health agencies in Washington, including Snohomish County. Visit www.snohd.org/casecounts to find information on the status of those thresholds. A summary can be found at the top of the Local Case Counts page, with full respiratory virus reports (including COVID, flu, and RSV) on the Snapshots and Reports page.

For more information about the joint agreement, visit Northwest Healthcare Response Network.