In light of the worrying surge in respiratory illnesses including COVID-19, influenza, and RSV, major hospital groups in New Jersey have commenced the year by reintroducing mask mandates for all staff, volunteers, patients, and visitors within their facilities. Different hospitals exhibit variations in their restrictions; however, the overarching consensus is that masks are a mandatory requirement inside the hospital premises.
New Jersey currently falls under the category of ‘very high levels of respiratory illness’ as per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one among eight states, thereby making these mandates crucial. The recent trend of escalating numbers of patients demonstrating respiratory symptoms and being admitted due to these symptoms is of grave concern.
The current hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are above 1,250, a figure lesser than last year and remarkably lower than the highest observed during the pandemic peak. However, despite this seemingly encouraging decrease, there is an evident unease among hospital administrators who are eager to inhibit further surges by enforcing universal mask mandates. Details of the latest restrictions are available on each hospital group’s website. The guidelines established by the RWJBarnabas group, for example, necessitate mask-wearing for their staff; they also encourage patients to follow suit. In essence, any location where active patient care is administered will require mask usage. There may be restrictions, subject to the current infection levels and other risk factors, imposed on visitor numbers on a case-by-case basis for each hospital or healthcare facility. The mandate applies to all the 18 HMH hospitals, their other medical facilities, and doctors’ offices.
Although state health officials have sounded an alarm on the rising infections and have been encouraging vaccinations, no proposal for a statewide universal masking has been put forth. Governor Phil Murphy too has remained silent on the issue. For such a mandate to be put into action would necessitate declaring a new state of emergency and issuing a separate executive order. However, private businesses, including non-affiliated medical facilities, are at liberty to implement their own policies without a statewide mandate. Many independent medical facilities like dentists, physical therapy centers, and eye care centers have already started enforcing patient mask usage again.