Healthcare workers: Keep hospital mask mandate

Last October, Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke issued an executive order that required universal masking in hospitals and other healthcare facilities to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

That order is set to expire in about a month, once the Covid Emergency ends on May 11.

But some healthcare workers are not happy about that. Wednesday, the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity held a virtual press conference calling on Governor Maura Healey to keep in place mandatory mask requirements for patients, visitors and practitioners at all healthcare facilities, including dental offices.

“Why is this so important? Well, Covid is airborne,” said Lara Jirmanus, MD, a primary care physician. “It spreads through the air like smoke.”

And, the group argues, masks are an effective deterrent to inhaling that smoke -- especially if all parties wear them. In that case, the possibility of exposure drops to less than 1% -- far lower than if only one party is masked.

The group says the Covid picture in Massachusetts is not as bright as official figures suggest -- due to non-reporting of home tests and asymptomatic infections. Earlier in the pandemic, they said, wastewater data lined up with state infection counts. But in recent months, wastewater has shown levels of Covid higher than state figures.

Another concerning statistic: booster vaccination rates. While they are higher than in many states, only about half of Massachusetts residents have gotten one booster and only about a fourth have gotten a second one.

Boston 25 asked the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services about the lifting of the mask mandate for healthcare facilities. A spokesperson sent this statement: “This decision is aligned with CDC guidance and federal requirements based on transmission rates, and was made following extensive conversations with health care experts. The Department of Public Health will continue to carefully track COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts and adjust as circumstances change.”

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