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The spread of respiratory illness and an expected post-holiday uptick in cases of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV has caused at least one health organization serving Greater Philadelphia to bring back a system-wide masking requirement.
Starting Thursday, staff and visitors at Main Line Health hospitals and acute care facilities will be required to wear masks.
The temporary masking requirement will be in effect for at least two weeks while officials monitor changes in local disease transmission, emergency room visits, and admissions.
“We see what’s happening both locally at our five hospitals and what’s also happening nationally, based on CDC data,” said Dr. Brett Gilbert, chief of Main Line’s division of infectious disease and preventative medicine. “That really raised our concern, and we said, ‘OK, it’s time to use one of our treatments now,’ and that’s masking.”
Weekly hospital admission rates for COVID-19 were categorized as “low” in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties as of Dec. 23, according to CDC data. But, local health providers have reported a steady increase in respiratory infections for several weeks now.
Following larger gatherings for holiday celebrations, Gilbert said he expects to see even more cases and for that to be reflected in the national data.
A review of internal case and admissions data led Main Line to return to masking, which Gilbert said is a preventative step with “clear benefits.”
“The masks themselves, if worn correctly, can absolutely decrease the risk of transmission and potentially prevent disease,” he said. “It keeps the viral particles inside the mask, thus preventing it from being transmitted to others, especially when they’re in close contact, which we usually consider 6 feet or less.”
Main Line has listed a number of facilities and hospitals on its website where the mask requirement will be in place, including main campuses in Wynnewood, Media, Bryn Mawr, Paoli, and Malvern.
The health system will provide masks to people who don’t bring their own.
The action, Gilbert said, will offer better protection to not only patients and visitors, but health care staff as well.
“Keeping our facilities open and functioning and having enough manpower to take care of all our patients, if our staff are getting sick, we don’t have the ability to do that,” he said. “So, it’s very important for us to try and protect everyone who comes through the health care system at this point.”
In two weeks, Main Line officials will review the latest disease data and case numbers and either lift or extend the masking requirement.
In the meantime, Gilbert said he’s encouraging people to take other preventative measures while respiratory diseases are circulating, including hand washing, masking in other crowded places, and getting an annual vaccine.
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