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UR Medicine and RRH implement universal masking at hospitals

Effewoman-in-white-face-mask-3873193ctive at 7 p.m. today, Rochester Regional Health and University of Rochester Medical Center are requiring universal masking, meaning all providers, staff and visitors must be wearing a surgical mask at all times in public and clinical areas for the foreseeable future. This is RRH and URMC’s latest action to reduce transmission of the coronavirus in local hospitals.

This announcement follows Monroe County’s four-part COVID-19 surge preparedness plan last week. Local doctors say the county may not have to enact the later phases, which includes the creation of a field hospital with another 500 to 1,000 beds, if residents continue to isolate and maintain social distancing.

“I want to be clear that this universal masking process applies to our hospital facilities, not patients and visitors who visit our primary care practices or ambulatory clinics,” URMC chief medical officer Michael Apostolakas M.D. said in a news conference this morning. “In those locations, we will continue to screen all patients and visitors, and anyone who has symptoms that potentially indicate COVID-19 will be given a mask before entering the clinic. People who do not have symptoms will not be asked to wear masks, but we can offer one if they feel more comfortable.”

Apostolakas added that, unless a mask is soiled or damaged, people do not need a new mask every day, especially visitors and hospital staff who don’t work directly with patients. Both health systems will provide surgical masks to visitors and hospital staff, and each system noted they have regular shipments of these masks arriving and are confident they have an appropriate quantity to meet the need for the near future. This is subject to change based on potential supply chain issues that could arise as well as a surge in COVID-19 cases for the two hospital systems.

“What we’re doing to make sure we have enough masks is checking our supply chain twice daily. Right now we have an adequate supply of surgical masks in order to implement this policy,” said Paul Graman M.D., anesthesiologist and chief of infectious diseases at URMC. “We believe that masking now will help flatten the curve of people getting COVID-19. The future remains unclear as to what the needs will be, and that’s why we continue to implore the public that social distancing is becoming increasingly more important.

“The less cases we see at a time, the more our PPE (personal protection equipment) supply lasts.”

RRH and URMC have provided face shields that cover the entire face down to the neck for providers to wear over their masks to preserve the safety and cleanliness of the mask. This is key in preserving quantities as masks used around COVID-19 patients must be continuously changed.

Both health care systems are also exploring ways to sanitize both surgical masks and N95 masks for providers who are directly caring for COVID-19 patients. The process for disinfecting N95 masks that URMC and RRH have adopted involves a hydrogen peroxide vapor. Used masks are collected and each mask is labeled with who wore it so that it can be returned to the same user. The masks are then bathed in hydrogen peroxide disinfecting vapor for a period of time and then dried until it has no residual odor.

“We’re only on our second day of doing this, so there may be changes to the process as we go along,” said Graman. “But we know this process has been used at other medical centers. It’s also a process we’ve used to disinfect other types of products for many years.”

Emil Lesho, RRH epidemiologist, added, “There’s probably a safe limit on the number of times a mask, be it an N95 mask or surgical mask, can be safely reprocessed. We’re tracking the number of times a mask is sent to the hydrogen peroxide vapor.

“Another technique we looked at and have not ruled out but are aware that it might shorten the lifespan of the masks further is ultraviolet light.”

According to Lesho, unless the hospital system gets desperate, N95 masks likely won’t be sanitized and reused more than two times.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, there were 257 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County, 42 requiring hospitalization and 25 of the 42 cases in intensive care. So far, Monroe County has verified eight deaths related to the coronavirus.

nsheldon@bridgetowermedia.com / (585) 363-7031


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