Before the pandemic, Dr. David Alpern, like many health workers at the time, did not think twice about going to work with a runny nose or cough.
But since the symptoms of COVID-19 are indistinguishable from the common cold, retired Cooley Dickinson Hospital internist is concerned that hospital employees with these mild symptoms could spread coronavirus to patients.
Alpern’s desire for CDH and other hospitals to take stronger precautions this holiday season inspired him to speak at a virtual press conference by the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity on Monday, in which health experts have advocated for the return to the universal protection of masks in health care settings. pre-admission tests during the winter season, when viral infections are more prevalent.
The health equity coalition raised three other policy recommendations for the Healey-Driscoll administration to consider this holiday season, including comprehensive disability rights, public education about long-term COVID, and access free PCR and rapid tests, high-quality respirators and COVID vaccines.
“Even asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases of COVID-19 can result in more than 200 long-term health problems, including an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and neurological problems,” Alpern, a Florence resident, said in a press release and repeated during the press conference. “Prevention of virus transmission in health care settings is critical, which would include implementing comprehensive precautions to prevent the spread of aerosolized viruses and conducting mandatory COVID-19 testing for all incoming patients.”
In his experience, many of Alpern’s past patients tend to be older, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as a vulnerable population for long-term COVID. As the holidays approach, young family members at low long-term risk for COVID may expose their elderly relatives to the virus, especially since half of all COVID-19 transmissions occur from asymptomatic cases or before symptoms develop.
“COVID is still here, it’s our eighth wave,” Alpern said. “People can choose to do what they want, but you can’t choose when you’re sick and you go to the hospital.”
The Centers for Disease Control reported that about 3.5% of Americans will be dealing with long-term COVID in 2022, and more adults ages 18 to 44 have increased difficulty thinking and remembering after the beginning of the pandemic.
“As there will never be a good time to stop wearing gloves in hospitals, I can’t understand why we shouldn’t just continue to use a simple, basic intervention that makes patients safer,” said Colin Killick, executive. director of the Disability Policy Consortium.
Patients who need coronavirus precautions are having a hard time getting them, according to those who spoke at Monday’s press conference. Jayda Jones, a member of the Coalition for Health Equity, said that she is helping dozens of people to submit reasonable deposit requests, asking doctors and nurses to wear masks during treatment. Most of these requests are denied because the patients are not considered vulnerable enough to require precautions. Jones noted that patients with disabilities choose between delaying care or continuing treatment.
“Patients do not need to consider their probability of being exposed or infected with the infection acquired in the hospital, and if so, we know that it is due to the lack of protection that we have in place to control infectious diseases” , he said.
Currently, Cooley Dickinson Hospital does not require masks for staff members, but encourages employees to wear masks during cold and flu season. Bay State Hospital does not require masks for healthcare staff, but requires testing for a number of high-risk units such as oncology.
“The COVID-19 test is not preformed on patients before surgeries or procedures, but if they come with symptoms, we do the test,” said Keith O’Connor, a Bay State spokesman.
Theodore Pak, an infectious diseases fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, stresses the importance of patients wearing masks even in hospitals. According to another study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a patient with an unknown case of COVID receiving treatment in a common patient room, which is common in Massachusetts, increases the risk of transmission by up to 39%, he said.
Pak notes that the numbers of COVID cases in the United States are underreported and underrepresented due to the lack of pre-admission testing in hospitals. In the United Kingdom, data showed one in seven patients contracted COVID while in hospital during the height of the pandemic. The mortality rate for hospital-acquired COVID is between 5% and 10%.
“For example, by sequencing the genome in an outbreak at Brigham Hospital, it was discovered that infections occur between workers and patients, even with both parties wearing surgical masks,” said Pak. “So imagine, without that layer of protection, what would happen.”
Dr. Lara Jirmanus, a doctor and instructor at Harvard Medical School, noted that 50% of the public is worried about a local outbreak despite messages that the pandemic is over. However, without proper education and prevention, many people still have these concerns without a way to express them.
“We’re here to make sure our health systems are safe and healthy for everyone, and that starts with making sure it’s safe and healthy for the most vulnerable,” Jirmanus said.
Emilee Klein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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