WOODBRIDGE, Va. — There is a new chapter in the post-pandemic world for healthcare employees in Virginia. What has become a major necessity to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses is no longer required in some medical centers.
Sentara Healthcare stopped asking patients, visitors, and staff to wear masks at all times within its healthcare sites. The change started across all facilities on Tuesday including Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in Woodbridge.
"Currently, health systems across the country are seeing a steady decrease in COVID-19, RSV, and flu patients - the three respiratory viruses that triggered a surge in emergency department visits and hospitalizations last fall," a spokesperson said. "After much consideration, we believe it is safe and appropriate to relax masking requirements across our healthcare facilities."
The exceptions to the change include patients who are seeking treatment for COVID-19 or the flu and healthcare workers treating patients with viral illnesses.
As workers continue to follow infection prevention protocols, the health system will still monitor illness activity.
Officials stressed masks are still an important tool and will be available to patients and visitors. Anyone can still choose to wear a mask.
"Other healthcare facilities have already relaxed their policy in masking a while ago,” Sentara Infection Prevention and Control Specialist Denise Ramos told WUSA9. “Sentara has aired on the side of caution and has studied the results of this lax in policy."
At its Northern Virginia location, Sentara Healthcare reported two COVID-19 patients, neither requiring a ventilator, as of Tuesday morning. The number of patients was three last Thursday.
Inova Health recently notified employees of making universal masking optional on April 3. While this applies to team members, patients, and visitors in patient care sites, there are exceptions.
It said it has continuously evaluated the approach to COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
Masking will continue to be required in Inova Health locations that are deemed appropriate such as "high-risk clinical spaces." It still has to be determined exactly which patient care areas will require masking.
Inova Health said team members may continue to mask in all locations if they prefer.
While masks will become optional, Inova Health stressed if a patient or patient representative asks a team member to wear a mask, that request must be honored.
"I think masks have been helpful, and in a hospital environment, it’s probably okay to do," said Inova Alexandria Hospital visitor Cathy Curriden. “It may be easier to talk to you, but I think it has been okay having them. I think it does reduce any kind of infections that we pass along."
"I have to do cardiac rehab so wearing a mask is a pain," said Inova Alexandria Hospital patient Eric Wilson. "You’re burning up energy and masks don’t help."
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