Masking came to an end on Monday at Alberta health facilities, which may have been a welcome reprieve to some at the Red Deer hospital.
Late last week Alberta Health Services announced that continuous masking requirements were being rescinded on June 19 for all patients, visitors and staff at AHS sites, continuing care, contracted sites, and for Alberta Precision Laboratories, Covenant Health, CapitalCare, and Carewest sites.
“I was on call Saturday night and the maternity staff were quite pleased that it was being lifted. It’s been a long time wearing a mask and wearing masks are not the most comfortable thing to work in for sure,” said Dr. Peter Bouch about staff on the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre ward.
He said the decision by AHS didn’t come as a surprise with the huge drop in COVID-19 cases.
On June 12, there were 352 patients with COVID-19 in Alberta hospitals.
AHS says it respects the choice to voluntarily wear a mask and continues to encourage visitors or designated family support persons who have had respiratory symptoms to wait to visit loved ones until 10 days after symptom onset.
All visitors and support persons are recommended to mask when visiting symptomatic patients or residents.
Bouch said AHS should also consider reinstating masking rules during the flu season for people seeking care at the emergency department.
“They should keep that door open for sure. There’s a lot of people coming and going in emergency. If they are feeling sick, and especially during flu season, they probably should be wearing a mask,” the Red Deer doctor said.
The United Nurses of Alberta encourages its members to remain vigilant and believes the masking policy should not have been hastily lifted in a blanket fashion without further consultation, or providing evidence to support the decision, and a plan for reinstatement should transmission rates rise.
“We are concerned that the change falsely sends a signal to healthcare workers and the public that precautions against viruses like COVID-19 are no longer necessary,” the UNA said in a statement.
The nurses union says it will continue to pressure AHS to ensure policies following best practice for use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace are being implemented, including monitoring the impact of removing the continuous masking mandate.
AHS says staff are required to continue to use the Infection Prevention and Control Risk Assessment to make PPE decisions and AHS Routine Practices to prevent the spread of infections.
Appropriate types of masks and PPE will continue to be available in all settings for patients and healthcare workers.
“AHS is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment and will continue to closely monitor the need for changes to masking requirements.”