BOSTON (State House News Service) – As the state’s public health emergency inches closer to its expiration next month, a group of public health advocates, health care workers and patients is pressing state officials and the health care industry to maintain the masking requirement in place for hospitals, clinics, physician and dentist offices, nursing homes, and for home health care services.
Gov. Maura Healey announced last month that she will end the state’s public health emergency — which in 2021 effectively took the place of an earlier COVID-19 state of emergency — on May 11, the same day a federal public health emergency ends. That will end six state public health emergency orders, one of which requires Bay Staters to wear masks in some health care and congregate care settings.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity is collecting signatures (more than 740 so far) on an open letter that urges the Department of Public Health, local boards of health, and health care institutions to keep masking requirements in place for all health care settings and to provide free masks, ideally N95s, to everyone in those settings.
“Clinics and hospitals are sites for COVID-19 patient care, so even when transmission rates are low, they will remain among the most likely locations to encounter people infected with COVID-19 (as well as people who are vulnerable to severe disease or death from COVID-19). Contagion in healthcare settings is already a problem even in well-equipped US academic medical centers. In January 2022, over 3,000 people weekly became infected with COVID-19 in US hospitals, including 4,734 in just one day, according to an analysis of federal data,” the coalition wrote in the open letter. “Removing masks in healthcare puts both patients and healthcare workers at risk, which could place even more strain on the healthcare system amidst severe staffing shortages.”
The coalition plans a press conference at noon Wednesday with public health experts, physicians, people with disabilities, people at high risk for COVID-19, and community leaders. Some participants are expected to say that the elimination of the state’s masking order “will place vulnerable people at risk by exposing them to COVID in the very settings they receive vital services, and discourage them from seeking care,” the coalition said.