Mask requirements reinstated in some Wisconsin hospitals due to rising cases of COVID-19 and other viruses

Respiratory viruses are still spreading in communities across Wisconsin, prompting several hospital systems to reinstate the mandatory use of masks for both patients and staff members.

UW Health has reinstated its policy of requiring masks in medical clinics, outpatient care, and waiting rooms, effective Tuesday.

Dr. Jeff Pothof, the chief quality officer at UW Health, stated that the health care system has consistently mandated the use of masks in areas where patients are highly vulnerable, such as transplant or cancer treatment centers, since the peak of the pandemic. However, due to the presence of moderate levels of influenza-like illnesses throughout the state, hospital leaders have decided to reinstate the requirement for masks in other areas.

Dr. Pothof emphasized the importance of reducing disease transmission among patients, staff, and the community. He acknowledged that these measures might not be necessary year-round, but when infection rates are high, the benefits of implementing them outweigh the risks.

According to a report by the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday, UnityPoint Health-Meriter in Madison has decided to reintroduce mask requirements for both patients and staff.

According to the latest respiratory virus surveillance data from the state Department of Health Services, influenza, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are all being actively transmitted within the state. As of December 9, more than 10 percent of the tests conducted for these three viruses yielded positive results.

According to Pothof, the current rate is significantly higher than it was a month or two ago.

According to the speaker, they also analyze staff data. They have noticed an increase in the number of employees calling in sick with respiratory symptoms as the primary reason for their absence. This aligns with the idea that these viruses are prevalent in the community.

According to Dr. Mary Beth Graham, an infectious disease specialist for Froedtert Health, she has also received reports from patients indicating an increase in respiratory illnesses circulating.

During a clinic session this morning, Graham noted that two of his patients were discussing how their Christmas plans had been disrupted due to family members contracting COVID-19. He further mentioned that while there is a significant number of cases in the community, the hospitalization rate is relatively lower.

According to Graham, there has been an increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and influenza in the past month. However, the numbers are not as high as in previous years.

According to data from the Department of Health Services (DHS), as of December 9, there were an average of 403 people hospitalized with COVID-19 over a seven-day period. This is a decrease from the average of 556 patients on the same day in 2022.

According to data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there have been a total of 274 hospitalizations associated with influenza as of December 9. This number is significantly lower than the same period in 2022, which saw 1,336 hospitalizations. However, it is higher than the 109 hospitalizations recorded in 2019.

According to Graham, Froedtert has maintained the policy of mandating mask wearing in areas where vulnerable patients are present. However, they have not yet extended this requirement to all patients and staff. Graham mentioned that hospital leadership has been engaging in discussions regarding this matter in the past few weeks.

The doctor mentioned that the hospital has clear guidelines regarding the use of masks for patients. She emphasized that if anyone has concerns about wearing a mask, they should know that there are no restrictions in the hospital’s guidelines against wearing one.

Health officials urge vaccination over the holidays

As people leave Wisconsin or come together to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, it is expected that there will be an increase in the spread of respiratory viruses in the state in the following weeks, according to Graham. Although it takes about 10 days for the body to develop immunity after receiving a vaccine, Graham emphasized the importance of getting the latest flu shot and COVID-19 booster for everyone.

According to the expert, it is crucial for 20-year-olds to get their flu vaccine, especially if they plan on spending time with their parents or grandparents during the holidays. The importance of getting vaccinated extends beyond individual protection, as it also serves to safeguard the health of loved ones and the community at large. By taking this step, you are actively demonstrating your care and concern for those you hold dear.

According to recent data, only 30 percent of Wisconsin residents have received a flu shot this season, while less than 13 percent have received the updated COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Pothof, it is important for individuals to consider the health risks associated with the people who will be attending their holiday gatherings. For instance, while a group of healthy individuals who have been vaccinated may not be concerned about someone bringing the flu to their Christmas party, a family with a member undergoing cancer treatments may request that everyone take a COVID test prior to attending dinner.

According to him, there is no need for everyone to wear masks during Christmas. He believes that canceling Christmas is unnecessary as the risk is significantly lower compared to the time of the pandemic.

If you have been exposed to a respiratory illness during the holidays, it is important to be aware of any symptoms you may develop. If you do become sick, it is recommended that you stay home as much as possible to prevent spreading the virus to others.

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