Some WA hospitals are reinstating indoor masks for influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is on the rise

Some WA hospitals are reinstating indoor masks for influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is on the rise

Some MultiCare hospitals in Washington will reinstate indoor masking policies this week, as winter weather intensifies and the respiratory virus season worsens.

Starting Wednesday, face coverings will be required for all patients, visitors and staff at MultiCare Healthcare facilities in Thurston, Kitsap, King and Pierce counties, according to a statement from the hospital system.

MultiCare said the decision was driven by a recent increase in ER visits for patients with influenza and respiratory syncytial virus or those infected with respiratory syncytial virus.

Nationally, flu hospitalizations have begun to rise, with 11 states reporting high levels of influenza-like illness as of last week, the Associated Press reports. Meanwhile, respiratory syncytial virus infections have filled hospital emergency rooms over the past month, and local and national health officials predict the numbers may soon peak.

In Washington, flu activity remains low, according to the state Department of Health’s weekly flu update, though three people have already died from the disease this season, and hospitals across the state have seen a rise in ER visits for the flu in the past few weeks.

The state also recorded a jump in RSV cases in the past month.

Under the MultiCare system, indoor mask mandates will be implemented so the facility can go for two weeks without activating any of the mask standards developed by the Northwest Healthcare Response Network, a coalition of health care systems in Washington, the hospital said.

According to the network, which has established masking guidelines for this year’s respiratory virus season, some criteria include: If COVID-19 admissions exceed 10 per 100,000 people; If regional influenza emergency visits exceed 1% of total visits; If regional RSV ER visits exceed 0.3% of total visits.

In King County, about 1.12% of emergency patients had influenza as of late November, while 1.14% of emergency patients had RSV, both the result of recent increases, according to Public Health-Seattle and King County.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s health officer, posted on the social media platform “For this reason, this is a very good time to get vaccinated (against influenza and Covid).”

Masks will be required in MultiCare patient care areas, such as check-in areas and exam rooms, but not in elevators, gift shops, cafeterias, conference rooms or other public areas.

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