Some California nurses question end-of-state mask requirements in health care settings

Some California nurses question end-of-state mask requirements in health care settings

SAN FRANCISCO — Members of the California Nurses Association say the state’s decision to stop requiring masks in health care facilities this week puts them at higher risk of catching COVID-19.

Some nurses say COVID remains a serious concern for them more than three years into the pandemic.

“We know that wearing a mask – a high-quality mask, a well-fitting mask – is a very simple, non-pharmaceutical intervention that anyone can do to protect themselves from COVID,” said Dolores Flanagan, a nurse. who works in San Francisco. “It just doesn’t follow the science. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a taste of everything nurses do.”

The California Department of Public Health announced in March that the new policy would come into effect on April 3. Instead of a statewide requirement, local health departments and facilities would decide which requirements work best for them.

“My first reaction was surprise. A bit shocked actually. Not because I don’t think it’s the right time for a certain context,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the UCSF. “It was something we had been doing so religiously for so long. It gave healthcare workers a lot of confidence, improved morale at a time when we didn’t have a lot of tools.”

Dr Chin-Hong said he understands some healthcare workers’ concerns about the policy, but believes the decision is based on data and changing circumstances around COVID-19. He also expects that many Bay Area hospitals and public health departments will still require masks in patient-contact areas and for high-risk populations like intensive care patients.

“You can’t completely eliminate risk. You just try to reduce risk,” he told KPIX.

Flanagan says that with other respiratory infections remaining a threat to staff and patients like influenza and RSV, she doesn’t think removing the mask requirement makes sense at this time. She continues to take many precautions to keep herself safe, such as wearing a fitted N95 mask every time she enters a building.

“There is a strong need for people to still be required to wear masks in healthcare settings where people are vulnerable,” she told KPIX. “My principle is that I don’t share indoor air with people at all.”

KPIX asked CDPH about concerns raised by California Nurses Association members like Flanagan. The agency said masking still remains a recommendation based on CDC guidelines for community levels of COVID-19.

Chin-Hong added that it’s a small step back to the normal people people remember before the pandemic. But for Flanagan, she doesn’t think we’ve made enough progress to start changing policies.

“I don’t want to be sick, I won’t be able to work and take care of people in my town,” she said. “I don’t think nurses go into this job without feeling like they want to do their best to care for patients and that’s my goal as a nurse.”

Website links:

CDPH Current Masking Guide
CDC COVID Data Tracker

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