Sat. May 25th, 2024

The mask mandate is back for BJC staff

The move is part of the hospitals’ new routine procedure as they tackle virus prevention and transmission, officials said.

ST. LOUIS — BJC Healthcare announced it will reinforce its mask mandate for staff starting on Wednesday, Dec. 13.

The mandate going into effect next week is only for some of their approximately 30,000 employees across 14 hospitals and solely when they are interacting with patients in a clinical setting. 

The St. Louis County Health Department reporting almost double the number of new COVID cases diagnosed in just a month. There was an average of about 80 cases in the county diagnosed on November 5, 2023. That number jumped to close to 170 diagnosed cases in one day on December 6.

Dr. Hilary Babcock, an Washington University infectious disease physician and BJC HealthCare’s chief quality officer, said with at home testing those COVID numbers are likely much higher.

“This is also something we’re seeing with RSV [Respiratory Syncytial Virus],” Dr. Babcock said. “This is the beginning of influenza season. We’re starting to see those numbers head up as well. We are again seeing increases in our employees, in our patients, and in our community.”

The CDC categorizes RSV as a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms in a similar way to the flu [influenza] or COVID.

Dr. Babcock emphasized the best way to keep your family safe during the holidays, especially visiting immunocompromised individuals is to “wear masks if you’re in crowded places.”

“Wear masks if you’re traveling on an airplane to go visit someone so that you don’t bring whatever you pick up in the airport and on the airplane as an unanticipated gift to the family that you’re coming to visit.”

We reached out to other local hospital systems to see if they will also be instituting an employee mask mandate but have yet to hear back. 

5 On Your Side received this initial statement from BJC Healthcare: 

BJC HealthCare regularly monitors the community infection rate and may choose to institute temporary enhanced masking requirements for staff when rates are particularly high. To control the spread of infection during the current peak respiratory virus season, starting Wednesday, December 13, BJC employees will be required to mask in patient care settings. This does not impact guidelines for patients and visitors, although we do encourage masking and masks are available at our facility entrances. We will continue to evaluate infection rates and loosen these requirements when appropriate. In the meantime, please stay home when you’re sick, mask in public settings if you or someone you live with is high-risk, and get vaccinated.

During the week of Dec. 2, the CDC reported that Vernon County and Cedar County have the highest number of cases in the state of Missouri. Both counties reported 20 hospital admissions within that week. 

There have been 621 new hospitalization admissions in Missouri in that same week, according to the CDC. In addition, 489 people were already hospitalized. 

“BJC HealthCare regularly monitors the community infection rate and may choose to institute temporary enhanced masking requirements for staff when rates are particularly high,” a BJC representative said. 

There has not been an end date announced for the mask mandate.

To find a place to get a COVID test, click here

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