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Masks the latest coronavirus-related change in Md. hospitals

Maryland hospitalizations now above 1,000

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Maryland hospitals have begun requiring masks to be worn at all times, another change in response to COVID-19 that has significantly altered the day-to-day operations of the state’s hospitals.

The new changes come in response to evidence that people who do not show signs of the disease caused by the coronavirus are still spreading it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended late last week that everyone wears a mask in public.

The University of Maryland Medical System will require everyone in its facilities to wear some kind of mask at all times in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, a change that took effect Monday.

“The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is happening on multiple fronts, and our mission to provide high-quality, compassionate and safe patient care and to ensure the safety of our workforce has never been as demanding or as important as it is right now,” Mohan Suntha, the system’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Given the asymptomatic community spread of COVID-19, we have shifted to a broader stance on infection prevention, including this masking policy, out of an abundance of caution and respect for the safety of our patients and staff.”

In Maryland, hospitalizations have risen rapidly. In the 12 days since the state began reporting the number of people hospitalized from the disease, the number has grown nearly 10 times from 132 to 1,059, according to figures reported Monday morning.

LifeBridge Health began requiring everyone to wear masks last Friday. It hands out masks, made in a building across the street from the system’s Northwest Hospital, to everyone who comes through its doors.

A LifeBridge Health employee makes a mask at a building across from the system's Northwest Hospital. She is wearing one of the finished products. (Submitted photo.)

A LifeBridge Health employee makes a mask at a building across from the system’s Northwest Hospital. She is wearing one of the finished products. (Submitted photo.)

The system has 52 employees making the masks and is also asking for volunteers with sewing skills to help make other needed equipment, including gowns.

UMMS put in place strict measures not just requiring that everyone wear a mask, but specifying who should be wearing what type of mask.

All people visiting one of the system’s 13 hospitals or any of its other facilities must wear some kind of mask — that could include cloth masks and other nonmedical masks — while walking through the facility.

Staff, whether they are clinical or non-clinical, are required to wear a medical mask whenever they are within 6 feet of a patient, any patient.

When they are in contact with a COVID-19 patient or a patient under investigation for COVID-19, clinical staff must wear all protective equipment, including respirators, eye protection, gowns and gloves.

Hospitals previously announced severely limited visitor policies in order to help prevent the spread of the disease. At most hospitals, visitors are not allowed except for specific situations like end-of-life visits, and even then the number of visitors has been limited.

Health care facilities are also asking most patients to avoid coming in and have implemented telehealth for most visits that would previously have been done in person.

One growing concern has been asymptomatic transmission, the possibility that even people who do not show symptoms of COVID-19 are spreading the disease. It is believed that if those people wear cloth masks, it would reduce the risk of them spreading the disease, the CDC said in making its mask recommendation.

Hospitals are also trying to protect providers. In disease hot spots, including New York and Italy, otherwise young and health providers have fallen seriously ill.

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