Lifespan, CNE lift universal masking policy

Updated at 2:02 p.m.

HOSPITALS in Rhode Island are lifting their universal masking policies ahead of the ending of the COVID-19 public emergency. / AP FILE PHOTO/ROGELIO V. SOLIS

PROVIDENCE – Lifespan Corp. announced Thursday its staff, patients and visitors are no longer required to wear masks in the health system’s hospitals.

The new optional policy, which applies to all Lifespan hospitals and affiliates, was implemented in light of the low prevalence level of all respiratory viruses in the community and the upcoming ending to the COVID-19 public emergency, said Kathleen Hart, spokesperson for Lifespan.

While masking “for source control” is now optional, appropriate masking and personal protective equipment are still mandatory “for patients or procedures that require transmission-based precautions,” she said.

Care New England Health System has also announced plans to make masking optional starting April 12. Both systems had implemented universal masking in April 2020.

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“For three years, required masking for staff, patients and families has remained in effect to help curb the spread of infection among staff and our most vulnerable patients,” said Robin Neale, vice president of quality, clinical effectiveness and infection prevention at Care New England. “During that time, high vaccination rates have been achieved within CNE (>99% of staff) and in R.I. (88% of residents). Transmission rates have fallen to 30 cases per 100,000 R.I. residents and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically.”

Neale said the health system is asking front-line staff to communicate any concern they may have about the transition. But so far, he said staff responses have been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“A supportive environment for anyone who chooses to wear a mask will remain in place,” Neale said.

Neale said CNE will continue to monitor transmission rates and other key indicators, and potentially re-implement universal masking if needed. Masking continues to be required when caring for patients with respiratory illness, including COVID-19 and influenza.

Other Rhode Island hospitals have been moving toward optional masking. Connecticut-based Yale New Haven Health, which owns Westerly Hospital in Westerly, has revised its mask policy on March 20, making masks optional for staff and visitors in areas “not designated for patient or visitor use,” such as auditoriums, conference rooms, break rooms, offices and shuttle buses.

“Masks must continue to be worn in all clinical/patient care areas and areas accessible to visitors throughout all our hospitals, including Westerly Hospital,” said Fiona Phelan, spokesperson for Yale New Haven Health. This includes lobbies and waiting rooms, hallways and elevators serving clinical/patient care areas, cafes and treatment rooms.

South County Health, which operates South County Hospital in South Kingstown, said it still requires masking in patient care and selected common room areas, but might ease the policy soon.

“South County Health’s Infection Prevention and Control team routinely monitors the prevalence of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses in the community and adjusts practices as necessary to best protect our patients, staff and visitors from excess risk of exposure and transmission,” said Anitra L. Galmore, vice president and chief nursing officer/chief operating officer at South County Health. “Based on current prevalence estimates of COVID-19 in the community, and in alignment with other health care systems in the state and surrounding communities, we anticipate relaxing some of our masking requirements in the near future.”

(UPDATE adds the last two paragraphs with comment from South County Health.)

Claudia Chiappa is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Chiappa@PBN.com. 

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