BOSTON — In response to recommendations from public health officials, Mass General Brigham has developed and updated infection control policies to include plans to mitigate the spread of respiratory illness including but not limited to influenza and COVID-19. Based on data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet), the health system will implement a phased approach that includes mitigation measures such as employee symptom attestation and masking for employees during individual patient encounters when illness levels rise in the region. While patients and visitors will be encouraged to wear masks during higher periods of illness, they will not be required to do so. As has been the case during the pandemic and post-pandemic, masks and hand hygiene stations continue to be readily accessible throughout Mass General Brigham locations.
“With the expiration of the Public Health Emergency this past spring, health system and infection control leaders have been working to update our plans to help reduce the spread of respiratory illness in clinical settings during times of increases in respiratory virus illness,” says Erica Shenoy, MD, PhD, chief of Infection Control, Mass General Brigham. “The policy approach uses a variety of interventions, including targeted masking, to mitigate risk of spread of all respiratory viruses.”
The respiratory virus season is considered to have started when more than 1.9% of patients presenting to emergency departments or outpatient clinics have symptoms of respiratory illness. The following mitigations will occur throughout Mass General Brigham locations including hospitals, healthcare centers, and clinics in a phased approach:
When the baseline 1.9% threshold is exceeded for two consecutive weeks, a series of non-masking mitigation measures will be in effect, including increased communication to employees, patients, and visitors about Respiratory Etiquette and vaccination, and active employee symptom attestation, among others.
When respiratory virus illness in our community exceeds 2.85% (1.5 times the regional baseline) for two consecutive weeks, healthcare personnel will be required to use a facility-issued facemask in direct interactions with patients in clinical care locations, such as when entering a patient room or bay, or in other locations where care is delivered such as examining a patient on a stretcher. Patients and visitors will be strongly encouraged to wear a facility-issued facemask in those same situations when they are able to.
When respiratory illness is declining and falls below 2.85% for a week, Mass General Brigham facilities will return to mild/moderate mitigation measures and masking required by the policy will end.
When respiratory illness is declining and falls below 1.9%, Mass General Brigham will transition out of respiratory illness season.
Last year, local hospitals experienced respiratory infection levels as high as 7.3% during what many health officials called the “tripledemic” of COVID-19, flu, and RSV, straining resources and adding to already historic capacity challenges in health care facilities across the country. Experts encourage members of the public to take action to protect themselves and their family by getting vaccinated and practicing good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. The CDC has also compiled a list of healthy habits to help protect against flu and other illnesses.
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