MultiCare reinstates mask policy amid flu and RSV surge

MultiCare Health System, one of the largest health care providers in Washington state, has announced that it will require masks in all its facilities due to the rise of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases. The new policy will take effect on Wednesday, December 6, 2023, and will apply to patients, visitors, and staff in patient care areas, including hospitals, emergency departments, oncology clinics, and waiting rooms.

RSV is a common virus that causes mild respiratory infections in most people, but can be severe and even life-threatening for infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. RSV is highly contagious and can spread through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, or talking, or by touching contaminated surfaces.

MultiCare reinstates mask policy amid flu and RSV surge
MultiCare reinstates mask policy amid flu and RSV surge

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one year of age in the United States. RSV can also cause complications such as wheezing, asthma, and chronic lung disease.

RSV typically peaks in the winter months, but this year, there has been an unusual increase in RSV activity in the Puget Sound region, as well as other parts of the country. The CDC has issued a health advisory warning of the potential for increased RSV-associated hospitalizations and deaths.

How will the mask policy affect MultiCare facilities?

MultiCare’s decision to reinstate the mask policy was driven by the data from the Northwest Healthcare Response Network, a coalition of health care systems across the state of Washington. The network has set the following criteria for masking in health care facilities:

  • Emergency Department visits for RSV exceed 0.3% of total visits
  • Emergency Department visits for the flu exceed 1% of total visits
  • Emergency Department visits for COVID-19 exceed 3% of total visits
  • COVID-19 admissions exceed 10 people per 100,000 population

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