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Cleveland hospitals are keeping mask requirements, despite new CDC guidance

MetroHealth atrium mask sign
Lisa Ryan
Ideastream Public Media
MetroHealth and other Cleveland-area hospitals will continue to require both patients and employees to wear masks, even though the CDC now says people can forgo masks in most indoor spaces.

Wearing a mask is no longer deemed necessary in most indoor places, according to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but many hospitals aren’t dropping their mask requirements just yet.

Masks are still mandated at Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and MetroHealth for both patients and employees, according to hospital spokespeople.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said this makes good sense. The risk of spreading COVID-19 is far greater in health care settings than in places like businesses and schools, he said.

“The approach that hospitals take will continue to be an enhanced, or more careful, approach than we would see as needed out in the general environment, because they’re taking care of vulnerable people and doing it in the context of — by definition — having many sick people in their facility,” Vanderhoff said. “Healthcare [is a] little bit of a different picture than if we’re looking at recommendations, guidance for people in most other environments.”

In addition to COVID-19, masks help reduce the spread of other respiratory illnesses, Vanderhoff said. Because of this, Ohio hospitals and other health care organizations will likely continue to require masks for the foreseeable future, he added.

“They recognize the importance of providing a really safe environment for people when they come into the hospital,” he said. “I think that our hospital providers are very accustomed to and comfortable with wearing whatever the personal protective equipment is that is going to keep their patients safe, and, of course, keep them from becoming a vector or transmitter of disease from one patient to another.”

The CDC still recommends universal masking in health care settings, according to the American Hospital Association, and Vanderhoff advises hospitals in the state to monitor for any impending CDC guidelines specific to health care settings.

The CDC’s updated mask recommendations use hospital capacity and COVID-19 admissions – rather than just COVID-19 case counts – to evaluate whether residents of a given community should wear masks indoors. The new approach focuses on preventing severe illness and overwhelmed hospitals, according to CDC officials.

About 70% of the U.S. population resides in low- or medium-risk areas and can now go indoors without masks, according to the CDC’s map.

Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Ashtabula counties have been deemed “medium risk” while Medina, Summit, Stark and Portage counties have dropped to “low risk.”

Several Southern Ohio counties remain at high risk, according to the CDC, which still recommends individuals use masks if they live in high-risk areas, are immunocompromised or at a greater risk for severe illness.

Due to a federal mandate, individuals must also still mask up on public transportation.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.