Area hospitals are beginning to tighten their masking policies as outbreaks and deaths related to COVID-19 continue to increase in Ottawa.
On Wednesday, The Ottawa Hospital announced it would update masking requirements beginning on Sept. 11 in anticipation of increased transmission of influenza, COVID-19 and RSV during respiratory viral season.
Masks will still not be mandatory in all parts of the hospital — as they were earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic — but they will be required in all clinical areas and waiting rooms, spokesperson Rebecca Abelson said. That includes inpatient units, patient rooms, nursing stations and ambulatory care areas.
Masks will be encouraged, but optional, in all other non-clinical areas such as hallways and cafeterias.
The Ottawa Hospital, like most hospitals in Ontario, relaxed rules around masking last spring as COVID-19 cases and other respiratory viruses plummeted.
One Ottawa family, whose loved one became infected with COVID-19 while being treated at the General campus for pneumonia and lung cancer, called for better enforcement, saying visitors were unmasked in patient rooms and other areas where masking was required.
Respiratory viral season usually begins in the fall, but COVID-19 cases began to climb in August.
On Wednesday, Ottawa Public Health reported eight additional Ottawa residents had died of COVID-19 over the past week and 163 new cases had been confirmed. Case counts are highly underestimated since most people don’t have access to PCR testing.
There were also 12 new outbreaks in institutional settings, including long-term care homes, retirement homes, hospitals and shelters, where some of the most vulnerable residents are. There are 26 ongoing outbreaks in institutional settings in Ottawa. Three earlier outbreaks at The Ottawa Hospital have ended.
The Ottawa Hospital is not the only local hospital tightening masking rules in advance of what some expect will be another tough viral season with surges of COVID-19, RSV and influenza.
The Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital has returned to mandatory masking throughout its two campuses, something that was in place at most Onrtario hospitals earlier in the pandemic. Everyone entering the hospital’s campuses is now required to wear a mask.
Spokesperson Karen Kelly said the hospital made the decision to reinstate universal masking, along with two-metre physical distancing requirements, “as a proactive approach to supporting safety and wellbeing of all patients, visitors and members of the PSFDH health care team.
“Reinstating universal masking is one measure to also minimize impacts and pressures on the organization’s health human resources.”
Earlier this summer, Ottawa’s Queensway Carleton Hospital loosened its mask mandates so that they were only required in the emergency department. Beginning Aug. 28, the hospital tightened its mask policy to require them in all clinical and waiting areas of the hospital. Masks are recommended, but not required, in public areas of the hospital such as hallways, elevators, cafeterias and coffee shops.
Queensway Carleton and other hospitals say they are continuing to monitor the situation “and will make further adjustments as appropriate.”
With COVID-19 cases climbing and a new highly mutated strain beginning to spread around the world, there have been growing calls for hospitals and other institutions to reinstate mask mandates to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and other viruses this fall.
Some hospitals in the United States have returned to mandatory masking.
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