As of Monday, healthcare workers and others in California are no longer required by the state to wear masks in hospitals or other high-risk indoor settings such as jails, jails and homeless shelters. shelter. While individual counties can still require people to wear masks inside healthcare facilities, Berkeley has not done so and has instead chosen to follow state guidelines that encourage but do not require the masking.
In recent days, Oakland-based people with disabilities and immunocompromises, seniors, doctors and others concerned with public health have participated in protests, appeals and letter-writing campaigns calling on Alameda County and its top health official, Dr. Nicholas Moss, to continue to require mask-wearing in health-care settings. The county health department issued a mandate on March 27 requiring staff at skilled nursing facilities to wear masks when working with residents, but the order did not include other nursing facilities. healthcare, including hospitals and clinics.
In the absence of a state or county mask mandate, major health care providers operating in Oakland have created their own policies. While some are dropping the requirement for their workers, patients and visitors, others are keeping mask mandates to varying degrees.
Two of Oakland and Berkeley’s largest providers — Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health — have stopped requiring masks in most cases. Sutter Health, which operates Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, told doctors and clinicians in a note March 28 that “masking is recommended but no longer required in most patient care settings,” but that staff should still wear masks when treating patients with “known airborne disease or suspected”, such as COVID-19.
“We continue to recommend masks and make them available to healthcare workers, patients and visitors to our healthcare facilities,” a Sutter Health spokesperson said in an email Tuesday. “However, based on changes to state and local health orders, as well as the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and testing, improved treatments, and fewer cases of serious COVID-19 infections , we also recognize the importance of personal choice in masking and management. exposure to COVID-19.
Sutter will also continue to “require masks for patient care in transplant units and infusion centers.”
Kaiser updated its website on March 31 to inform visitors to their hospitals and clinics that “masks are no longer required at Kaiser Permanente facilities,” unless mandated by the government, agencies regulators or local infection control experts. Visitors also no longer need to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to visit friends or family in hospital.
In an email, a spokesperson told The Oaklandside Kaiser that it would “monitor and adhere to all applicable federal, state and local regulations regarding masking.” The spokesperson also confirmed that masking is no longer required for all staff except “in designated circumstances and clinical areas”. Oaklandside has sought clarification from Kaiser on these circumstances and areas and will update this story if we receive any new information.
Alameda Health System, a public network separate from the Alameda County Public Health Department and operating nine facilities in the East Bay, including Highland Hospital and Eastmont Wellness Clinic in Oakland, will continue to require masks to be worn in in most cases. AHS released a note to staff on March 28 stating that wearing a mask is still mandatory for workers and visitors to their facilities.
Alameda Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Felicia Tornabene confirmed to The Oaklandside in a statement that the policy also applies to patients.
“We will continue to require masks in high-risk settings as we continue to support significant numbers of COVID-19 patients in our healthcare system,” Tornabene said. “This means that AHS staff, patients and visitors will be required to wear masks in patient care areas.”
UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, the only hospital that cares exclusively for children in Oakland, is operating under a new policy that requires hospital staff and students to mask in indoor clinical areas as well as in elevators and the halls. Patients and visitors, however, are no longer required to wear masks.
Small health care providers in Oakland, such as community clinics, private doctors and dentists, are also no longer required by state law to require masking, although they are free to create such requirements if they wish, and policies vary from site to site. .
Hospital masking requirements remain in some other California counties. San Francisco and Los Angeles counties have issued mandates requiring all staff and staff, but not visitors or patients, to wear a mask in healthcare facilities. In Santa Clara County, masks must be worn by staff, patients and visitors in patient care areas only during a “winter respiratory virus period” between November 1 and March 31 each year.
Masks still needed at skilled nursing facilities in Berkeley
Staff must continue to wear masks at Berkeley skilled nursing facilities despite the state lifting its mask mandate in high-risk areas, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, correctional facilities, skilled nursing homes and homeless shelters.
Berkeley’s independent health department released guidelines for Alameda County-aligned nursing facilities, which went into effect Monday and are expected to be reviewed monthly.
Although masks are mandatory for staff at the five licensed sites, visitors are “strongly encouraged” to wear them, Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley wrote in a memo to the mayor and city council.
As of March 24, 74 Berkeley residents have died from COVID-19, and 32% have occurred in skilled nursing facilities.
Nationwide, COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths have declined as more people get vaccinated and have access to antiviral treatments. But the virus continues to claim victims. More than 250 people a day have died from COVID on average this year.
Berkeleyside contributed to this report.
Photo by Pete Rosos
• Stay home if you are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19
• Stay up to date on vaccinations, including updated COVID-19 reminder
• Wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask
• Gather outdoors to reduce risk or, if gathering indoors, improve ventilation by opening doors and windows or running air filtration systems
• Get tested if you are exposed or sick
• Plan how and where to access treatment and, if positive, immediately contact a health care provider or use a publicly funded resource immediately; don’t wait for symptoms to get worse.