By A.J. Plunkett
As COVID-19 case numbers start to drop nationwide, there’s a tendency to want to ease up on the precautions taken over the last 15 months. But regulators are continuing to insist on the wearing of masks in healthcare facilities.
The top three reasons to continue to require patients, staff, visitors, and vendors to wear masks:
- CMS encourages you to—the federal agency has said hospitals and other providers should follow CDC guidelines, which as of mid-June continued to be to require masks.
- CMS “requests” that you do—a hospital in west Texas eased up its mask requirements as the state opened up earlier in June and, according to a news report, then reinstated its policy “at the request of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services during an on-site visit.”
- CMS will cite you if you don’t, especially if you have mask requirements in your current hospital policy.
Cases in point:
- Another hospital in Texas with a CDC-based COVD-19 policy that staff should “Wear a mask in all patient-care areas, hallways, and public areas…,” was cited in March under Tag A-0749, Infection Control Officer Responsibilities, according to a CMS inspection report. CMS inspectors walking through the hallway at the facility saw a staffer “at the nursing station not wearing a mask,” and “waiting in the hallway to meet with hospital administration Personnel #6 and Personnel #7 were seen walking in the hallway not wearing a mask,” and during the opening conference “Personnel #1 did not wear a face mask while within 6 feet of the surveyor in his office.”
- A critical access hospital in Minnesota with a policy stating that were to be “screened for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and must pass the screening to be allowed to visit” and that “visitors must wear a mask and visitor badge at all times in the facility” was cited by CMS surveyors in February for not insuring that a screener was on duty at all times to enforce screening and providing badges.
- Finally, a third hospital in Texas was cited in early February for failing “to take measures to contain and/or prevent the transmission of a highly suspected contagious Coronavirus (COVID-19). Also, the facility failed to follow their own policy,” according to the inspection report. Observations included that of nine staff members at the Emergency Department nursing station, with surveyors reporting that “three staff members were not wearing masks. One staff member was observed drinking from a coffee cup with her mask pulled down under the chin. The observation of this issue with no mask went on during the 20-minute tour of the emergency room.” In another observation, surveyors said, of six staff members caring for a patient in the trauma room of the emergency room, one of the staff members was only wearing a surgical mask with no N-95 mask.”
And if you needed another reason, don’t forget the COVID-19 variants that continue to cause concern. According to the CDC’s online page on variants, updated as of June 15, 2021, there are multiple variants, with six identified as “notable.”
Experts have said one, known as the Delta variant, could create a new patient surge. The World Health Organization said June 16 that the variant was in 80 countries worldwide and responsible for 10% of the new cases. And it is continuing to mutate.
A.J. Plunkett is editor of Inside Accreditation & Quality, an HCPro publication.