By Jack Phillips
A major New York hospital system has no plans to reinstate mandatory masking for patients, visitors, doctors, nurses, and other staff, going against a trend at hospitals in upstate New York.
Dr. Peter Silver, senior vice president at Northwell Health on Long Island, told Newsday on Thursday evening that the number of COVID-19 cases doesn’t warrant mandatory mask-wearing at facilities.
“Most of the patients who are admitted to Northwell who are testing positive for COVID have COVID as an incidental finding,” he said, adding that a number of patients who test positive for COVID-19 had actually come to the hospital for reasons unrelated to the virus. Staffers are only required to wear masks in high-risk areas, including around cancer patients, transplant wards, and around patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, he said.
“They are not being admitted for COVID, which means that it’s still a relatively mild disease. Neither the number of patients in our hospitals, nor the severity of disease is pushing us to reinstate the mask mandate as of now,” Mr. Silver said.
He added: “We’re encouraging staff to wear masks in other areas where there’s potential for COVID or where there’s high turnover like emergency rooms, where so many patients come in and out every day and they may have mild viral illness or other things. We’re encouraging staff but we’re not requiring them.”
Several other Long Island hospital systems told Newsday that they aren’t planning on bringing back mask mandates anytime soon, if at all.
Catholic Health System, which operates six Long Island-area facilities, told the outlet that masking is optional. It will continue to follow the New York State Department of Health’s guidance on mask policies for health care facilities.
NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola and Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, both in Long Island, told Newsday that there have been no policy changes to mandate masking.
Another hospital system on Long Island, Stony Brook Medicine, confirmed to the outlet that it requires health care staff to wear masks while performing direct care to patients. However, patients and visitors don’t have to wear them, although it said that they are “encouraged to wear a mask when they are in our hospitals and facilities.”
It comes as multiple hospitals in Upstate New York announced in August that masks will be mandatory for not only staff, but also patients and visitors. They include United Health Services in Binghamton, Auburn Community Hospital in Auburn, University Hospital in Syracuse, and Samaritan Health facilities in Watertown, also located upstate.
This week, Samaritan Health Facilities announced that it would require masking for staff, patients, and visitors. A public relations official with the hospital, Leslie DiStefano, claimed it is being done because “we know is that [masking] absolutely works,” despite hundreds of studies showing otherwise.
Earlier this month, United Health Services in Binghamton, New York, confirmed that it would again require masks for patients, visitors, staff, and doctors. “Because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases, masks are once again required in all clinical areas at UHS Wilson Medical Center, UHS Binghamton General Hospital, UHS Chenango Memorial Hospital and UHS Delaware Valley Hospital, as well as primary and specialty care sites,” United Health Services stated on its website.
The policy, imposed last week, is “in effect immediately for all patients, visitors, employees, medical staff, volunteers, students and vendors.” It added: “Masks are required at nurses’ stations and in conference rooms within clinical departments, including areas where patients register, wait, transport through, or receive testing and care.”
Masks will also be mandated in “common spaces,” the announcement added. That includes hospital lobbies, hallways, stairwells, cafeterias, and patient care units.
Elsewhere in New York, Auburn Community Hospital in Auburn, located upstate, said on Aug. 19, about a month after its previous mask mandate ended, that it would again be requiring masks on-site. That applies to anyone going inside the facility, regardless of vaccination status.
“Face coverings are mandatory inside our facilities, regardless of your immunization status,” the statement reads. “If you do not arrive with one or yours is deemed inappropriate, a mask will be provided to you. It must be worn at all times and must cover your nose and mouth.”
Also in mid-August, University Hospital in Syracuse, New York, reinstated masking for everyone entering the building. The hospital’s mandate was only lifted a few months prior to that, in late April.
“Effective immediately, mandatory masking is required by all staff, visitors and patients in clinical areas of Upstate University Hospital, Upstate Community Hospital and ambulatory clinical spaces,” the hospital said, according to Syracuse.com. “Clinical areas are defined as any location patients gather, wait, transport thorough or receive care.”
Mask mandates were also implemented at Hollywood studio Lionsgate in Santa Monica, California, in recent days. However, the company told TheWrap that the Los Angeles Department of Health essentially forced it to reinstate the mask rule and later clarified that masks are now not mandatory at its office in Santa Monica.