As some restrictions are being lifted this week despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic of COVID-19, including resuming non-emergency services and elective surgeries, area hospitals are implementing new safety protocols that require masks to be worn by anyone entering medical facilities.

At Barnes-Jewish Hospital and other BJC facilities, universal masking began this week.

“All of our employees and patients that are coming in to our facilities, and any visitors who are allowed, will all be expected to be wearing a mask,” Washington University infectious disease specialist Hilary Babcock, M.D., who is director of infection prevention at BJC HealthCare, said. “People who show up in a cloth mask, that’s great. If for some reason, someone does not have a mask, or shows up without their mask, we will provide a mask for them.”

As an infectious disease specialist, Babcock admits the lifting of stay at home restrictions is “a little concerning” to her.

“I think we know there are still a lot of cases in our area… and we can anticipate as social distancing regulations are relaxed and more people come out and about in more spaces and businesses open, there will be more contact between people and more opportunities for the virus to spread,” Babcock said. “And I think we can anticipate that the number of cases will go up.”

She is hopeful, however, that even with rules relaxed in this ongoing pandemic that people will still be mindful and careful about people around them, by continuing “to stay home if they are sick, wear masks when they are in public; avoid large groups and public areas as much as possible and keep doing good hand washing and hand hygiene.”

Babcock said the masks need two or three layers, and they work in two ways. “Its primary role is to protect other people from you if you become sick or infected, but it does protect you from others,” Babcock said. “If people are coughing or sneezing around you, it’s great to have that barrier, so none of those droplets get onto your nose or mouth.”

At Mercy Hospital, mask coverings are required for everyone entering any Mercy facility. “While masks will be provided if someone arrives without one, we strongly encourage everyone to bring their own (cloth is fine) so we can maintain our supply of PPE for our caregivers in the event of another surge,” a spokesperson said. Visitor restrictions remain in place.

SSM Health also began requiring masks this week. “All employees, patients and visitors will be required to wear masks or other face coverings when they enter our facilities,” the SSM statement read. “Visitors are encouraged to bring their own cloth face coverings with them to an SSM Health facility. If they do not, we will offer a cloth face covering to them as supplies allow. We will supply a mask on their first visit and ask that they launder and reuse it on future visits.” With this new policy, SSM Health said the need for additional masks is even greater. Anyone interested in donating cloth masks can click here to learn more about how to make and donate them.

Monday, St. Louis County issued guidance for children and masks as businesses and other functions in St. Louis County reopens. The mask requirement does include children, especially in places where they may not be able to avoid staying six feet away from others. However, children under the age of 2 years should not wear cloth face coverings, because they are possible choking or strangulation hazards. Also, wearing the cloth face covering causes young children to touch their face more frequently than not wearing it. “Staying home and physical distancing is still the best way to protect your family from COVID-19. Especially for younger children who may not understand why they can't run up toward other people or touch things they shouldn't, it's best to keep them home,” the St. Louis County Dept. of Public Health stated. “Children who are sick (fever, cough, congestion, runny nose​, diarrhea, or vomiting) should not leave home.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

Cloth face masks or coverings should fit snug but comfortably against the side of the face,

be secured with ties or ear loops; include multiple layers of fabric; allow for breathing without restriction; and be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to its shape. 

Keeping those masks clean is important. Cloth masks should be washed and cleaned regularly, depending on frequency of use. Health experts recommend laundering in a washing machine or handwashing with warm water, detergent or dishwashing liquid and hanging dry, if you don’t have a washing machine.

When taking off masks, individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their face covering and wash hands immediately after removing.

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