A doctor from Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) has stepped forward to explain the hospital’s universal masking policy for patients, visitors and most hospital staff, announced last Friday, Jun. 12, 2020.
Dr. Gerald Evans, the medical director for infection prevention and control at KHSC, said hospital staff have heard many questions from patients and visitors about why masks have not necessarily been required up to now.
“We were faced with a lot of people coming to the hospital in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying things like ‘When I go to Costco people are wearing masks, but when I come to the hospital you’re not,’” he said.
“Here in the hospital, we have been extensively screening and limiting visitors, so we represented an extremely safe environment, in and amongst the Kingston environment where, generally speaking, there was very little COVID-19 activity.”
Before Monday, Jun. 15, KHSC employed targeted mask use, he said, identifying specific areas in the hospital where healthcare workers faced a greater risk of running into COVID-19.
“That was our emergency departments and our urgent care centre over at the Hotel Dieu site,” he said. “Masks were also required in some parts of the hospital where clinical activity continued at high levels, such as the renal dialysis unit and the cancer clinic.”
Additionally, masks were of course required in the COVID-19 unit, he added.
“We’ve shown that not universally masking the rest of the hospital didn’t have any adverse consequences,” he said.
However, despite successfully managing the virus within the hospitals walls and avoiding an outbreak, Dr. Evans said staff still spent a lot of time reassuring the public.
“People were fearful, people were anxious and worried,” he said, “so they had a hard time processing that message.”
New Government Policy
The Ontario government recently recommended hospitals require masks for everyone, to coincide with increasing clinical activity as more medical procedures resume across the province.
With that, Dr. Evans said KHSC decided to embrace the new policy.
“We recognize there are more people coming into the hospital, knowing that there might still be a little bit of the virus circulating in the community, along with this directive from the province we said ‘Well, why don’t we?’”
The universal masking policy applies to most people coming and going from the hospital, with a few exceptions for staff, he said.
“It’s a bit nuanced… We’re going to universally mask people who are working in clinical areas,” he said, noting that includes areas such as in wards, at clinic appointments, and in the imaging and X-ray departments. Patients and visitors to the hospital are also required wear masks, brought from home.
KHSC will issue masks to employees in offices or other closed settings, away from any patients, but only ask them to wear masks when physical distancing is impossible.
Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington Public Health welcomes the new policy, Dr. Evans said.
“Around the masking, public health has been very vociferous about everyone wearing masks.”
When asked if he wears a mask himself when out in public, Dr. Evans revealed that he had only done “one thing publicly” since the start of the pandemic.
“I work 12-14 hours days,” he said, “but I did get my haircut on Friday, and I wore a mask.”
He said that research and scientific dialogue question the value of universal public masking, but it is in the very least a symbolic gesture of supporting and caring for one another.
“When I wear a mask I’m saying ‘I care about you, and I care about me’… It’s a good symbol that we’re all in this together,” he said.