Director of Health for St. Louis urges caution as hospitals drop masks

Updated March 17 with BJC Healthcare also raising mask requirements

Washington University Medicine and BJC Healthcare will ease mask requirements next Wednesday, they announced on Friday. Because of the reduction in cases of COVID-19, influenza and RSV, masks will become situational for employees and optional for healthcare system patients.

March 16 original story

Following a move by three area hospital systems to drop their mask requirements three years into the pandemic, St. Louis is urging caution.

SSM Health, Mercy and St. Luke’s will no longer require patients, visitors or staff to wear masks, the hospitals said, citing reduced levels of COVID-19 in the community and low hospitalizations.

“We cannot have a black and white approach to mandates just because the large number of us are lucky enough to belong to a certain demographic that does not put us at risk,” Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of health at St. Louis, said Thursday.

As a health officer for the general public, Hlatshwayo Davis said he tends to think of the most vulnerable. However, making that decision isn’t easy, she said, and each health system needs to do what’s best for it, based on staffing capabilities and patient populations.

“There certainly isn’t — and may not understandably be moving forward — a copy-and-paste approach to when people implement or reduce certain policies or mandates,” she said.

The change is part of what will likely be a growing trend, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

“Other hospitals are expected to ease their policies where conditions and clinical judgment indicate it is no longer necessary,” said Dave Dillon, spokesman for the association.

There are some systems in the area that still require masks. BJC Healthcare, one of the largest healthcare providers in the region, is one of them.

“The BJC continues to closely watch case rates for COVID-19 and other respiratory infections in the hospital and community to determine when we can safely reduce the use of face masks in our healthcare settings,” the BJC wrote in a statement. “If rates remain consistently low, changes could come soon.”

The St. Elizabeth’s at Sisters Health System Hospital in O’Fallon, Ill., also requires its patients and staff to wear masks, a spokeswoman said.

“We continue to evaluate this issue as respiratory and COVID-19 cases continue to decline,” said Kelly Barbeau.

Most counties around St. Louis has COVID case rates equal to or less than 10 per 100,000, according to the New York Times. Calhoun County, Illinois has by far the highest number of 30 per 100,000. Home to 4,000 people, the county averages 1.4 cases a day.

A spokesperson for the St. County Public Health Department. Louis declined to comment on Thursday about the change in hospitals.

“But we would like to emphasize that COVID-19 is still spreading in our community, and we still recommend that people wear masks in closed, crowded spaces,” said spokesperson Christopher Ave.

Director of Health for St. Louis urges caution as hospitals drop masks

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