Will masks be back everywhere? Channel 11 asks expert

PITTSBURGH — With UPMC announcing its plans this week to reintroduce its mask mandate, some may be wondering if other institutions will follow suit. 

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease physician and Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security told Channel 11 that it’s “not surprising” to see hospitals looking to implement masking, but he does not believe there is “any indication” that other types of industries will roll out requirements “at this point.”

“Healthcare systems have to be thought of differently,” he said. “Healthcare facilities have to be careful about what’s spreading in their facilities and that doesn’t necessarily apply the same to a school or a workplace because it’s a different type of atmosphere. When you’re going to a hospital, you want to be reasonably assured that you’re not going to get sick there, and that’s why healthcare facilities have to think about this a little bit differently than other organizations do.”

According to a UPMC spokesperson, the decision to require masks starting December 20 is the result of “an increase in cases of respiratory viruses, including Covid, influenza and RSV.”

>> UPMC will soon require face masks again in all facilities due to rising COVID, RSV, flu cases

AHN, meanwhile, told Channel 11 that it does not intend to reinstate a mask mandate at this time, citing CDC and internal data.

Current CDC data shows that all counties within the Pittsburgh region are “low” in terms of COVID-19 hospital admissions.

“Each hospital is going to look at the metrics in a different way,” Dr. Adalja said. “They’re going to look at how many cases are occurring amongst their employees, what the absentee rate might be of employees because they’re getting sick, what type of transmission has occurred within the hospital.”

Dr. Adalja said that hospitals also must consider their patient population, and how many may be immunocompromised. A hospital with a significant amount of transplant patients, or patients receiving chemotherapy, may be more likely to implement masking.

He stated that many hospitals have always required masking in certain areas, like cancer wards.

As for the everyday person who is wondering if he or she should wear masks during routine errands or events, Dr. Adalja said that anyone who is immunocompromised or very elderly or frail may want to consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces.

“Masking is not a one-size-fits-all decision,” he said. “People have to think about it as one tool they can use among many and you have to kind of risk calculate.”

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