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Masks Now Required for Hospital Staff at UR Medicine, Rochester Regional

Patti Singer

Rochester Regional Health and UR Medicine
are having all hospital staff wear masks,
as of 7 p.m. March 31, 2020. Photo by
Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

As of 7 p.m. March 31, UR Medicine and Rochester Regional Health systems require all health care providers, staff and visitors to wear surgical masks in hospitals to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Staff at the system-owned outpatient clinics also will wear masks.

But the policy at outpatient centers where UR Medicine has a presence, such as Anthony L. Jordan Health Center, isn’t clear.

Jordan’s breast imaging service is run in conjunction with UR Medicine.

“I haven’t had any, or I don’t know of any formal discussions we’ve had with looser affiliates such as Jordan and elsewhere,” Dr. Michael Apostolakos, chief medical officer for UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals, said at a news conference earlier in the day. “We’d be happy to engage in conversation with them to see what their thoughts are. That’s something we should be exploring.”

As of midday March 31, a spokeswoman for Jordan Health said that officials were making decisions about universal masking.

Officials of the UR Medicine and Rochester Regional systems said patients coming to appointments at outpatient clinics are screened for symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever or cough. If they show signs, they will be given a mask.

Patients who are not showing signs of the illness will not be given a mask.

As of 4 p.m. March 31, Monroe County had 300 confirmed cases. Of the 57 people who were hospitalized, 24 were in intensive care. The county reported nine deaths.

Hospital visitation has been severely limited as one way of containing COVID-19. Having all visitors and staff wear a mask further reduces the risk, according to officials for UR Medicine and Rochester Regional.

The mask protects not only the wearer but also people within an arm’s length or two.

“By far the most common way COVID-19 is transmitted is by droplets,” Apostolakos said. “The reason the 6-feet separation is so important is if someone coughs or sneezes, that’s the limit of how droplets … can travel before they drop to the surface.

“If people cough and put it in their hand, then they can touch things, put the virus there, or if they cough it can go on the table, it can go on the floor, it can go on a chair, and someone sits down and touches it, they pick it up.”

A mask can prevent the droplets from becoming airborne.

But if a person has touched a contaminated surface, a mask and face shield, as some medical people are wearing, keep them from touching the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth and thereby keeping the virus out of the body.

Apostolakos said that even with a restriction on visitors and with nonessential staff working from home, the hospital still is a crowded place and it’s hard for a provider to stay six feet from a patient.

Patients will not wear a mask unless they have symptoms of COVID-19.

As for whether everyone in every setting should wear a mask, doctors from UR Medicine and Rochester Regional said that would be a public health decision. However, Dr. Paul Graman, clinical director of the Infectious Disease Division and epidemiologist for Strong and Golisano Children’s Hospital, offered an opinion.

“Wearing a mask in an environment where there’s a lot of people in one building makes a lot of sense,” he said. “Out on the street, walking your dog where the nearest people are across the street, there’s probably less rationale for wearing a mask in that case.”

Hospital officials said that people coming to their sites would be given a mask.

Masks worn by providers to care for COVID-19 patients are discarded. The hospitals are working on ways to sterilize masks worn in other situations.