Major health systems in Philadelphia are reinstating mandatory mask mandates in light of COVID-19’s persistence. Yet, large healthcare providers in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley have confirmed that they are not currently considering reintroducing such requirements. One local official attributed the lack of enforced mask-wearing in these areas to a lack of efficacy observed in previous mandates.
Health systems including St. Luke’s University Health Network and the Lehigh Valley Health Network continue to uphold voluntary mask use. Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, senior vice president of medical and academic affairs and section chief of infectious diseases emeritus at St. Luke’s University Health Network, has stated that the current variant of COVID-19 is indeed more contagious, but it is not more severe. Hence, in the workplace, viral infection rates remain relatively low, reducing the need for mandatory masking.
Moreover, Dr. Jahre shared his concerns about mandatory masks creating an unwanted dynamic among the healthcare teams, where nursing staff essentially become enforcers of mask mandates. This pressure can result in tensions and even potential outbreaks of violence due to visitor resistance to compulsory mask use.
Instead, St. Luke’s and the Lehigh Valley Health Network opt for other protective measures. They recommend masking under certain circumstances, urge staff, patients, and visitors exhibiting illness symptoms to stay home, and promote the use of telehealth when necessary. Furthermore, requiring employees to get vaccinated for influenza or wear masks throughout the flu season is part of their infection management strategies.
Dr. Alex Benjamin, Chief Infection Control and Prevention Officer at the Lehigh Valley Health Network, affirmed their intention to closely monitor COVID-19 numbers in their hospitals, making decisions about any future mask mandates contingent on observed trends.
It is important to note, meanwhile, that COVID-19 is not the only health concern for the residents of Lehigh Valley. Cases of other respiratory diseases, including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and whooping cough, are reportedly on the rise. To mitigate the spread of these diseases, health officials advise everyone who’s eligible to get vaccinated against all three major infections for full protection. Treatments for COVID-19 and influenza are available and can significantly reduce the likelihood of hospitalization.
Overall, the resurging COVID-19 numbers are influencing the policies of health institutions across Pennsylvania, though the approach varies based on locational specifics and previous experiences with mask mandates. It is clear that local healthcare providers continuously monitor the situation and adapt their response as necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff, patients, and visitors.