Dr. John Lynch: COVID-19 Prevention and Control Bundle and Required Extended Use Masking

Earlier this week we announced the launch of the UW Medicine COVID-19 Prevention and Control Bundle and Healthcare Worker Safety Toolkit. A major aspect of both the bundle and toolkit is the implementation of required extended-use masking for all employees who are present in buildings with any clinical activity. This masking policy will officially launch on Monday, April 27, with a pilot that started yesterday at UW Medical Center – Northwest.

As a reminder, key points of this new policy include:

  • It applies to all employees working in buildings or areas (such as home care) where clinical care is provided or when walking through common areas in those same buildings.
  • The updated policy incorporates and replaces the UW Medicine Cloth Face Cover guidelines and provides guidance on mask use for faculty and staff in buildings without any clinical activities.
  • All UW Medicine staff and faculty who are working only in buildings with no clinical activity are expected to wear, at a minimum, a cloth face covering or a personal mask, as recommended by the CDC, while on premises and within 6 feet of another person. A procedure mask supplied by the hospital or clinic can substitute for a cloth face cover.
  • All employees who work or will be physically present in clinical areas may wear their own cloth face covering or personal masks into the building but must change into a hospital issued procedure mask as soon as possible and immediately on arrival at any clinical department/area.
  • Masks will be available at entrances where there is a screener and/or at the department level. If you need masks in your department, please order a supply through the routine process.
  • Visitors and patients will be strongly encouraged to wear masks while in UW Medicine facilities. They can use cloth face covers, personal masks or be provided with a procedure mask. Signage is being created that will reinforce this mask usage. Vendors will be required to follow the same procedures as staff and faculty.
  • Employees should discard their masks when leaving the hospital and not wear them home.
  • When outside clinical buildings, we recommend that healthcare workers wear a cloth face covering or personal mask that is purchased by the employee. Employees may not take surgical masks home for next day use. They will be provided a new mask at their next shift.
  • Physical distancing and taking precautions like washing your hands, using hand sanitizer and cleaning surfaces frequently should continue when at work and at home.

Because many of you are new to masking, we created a video, Universal Masking 101, that shows the proper way to put on and remove a procedure mask. We recognize that there are many employees not used to masking — it will take a little time to get used to it, and I encourage you all to watch the video. If you experience any irritation while wearing a face covering, please contact employee health.

Hospital leadership has shared more detailed information on masking expectations and how and where managers can order masks. The expectation is that each department will only order enough masks to last a week (one mask per employee per shift).

We know this new masking policy will be a difficult transition for many of you who are new to wearing a mask; we greatly appreciate your openness as we adapt to this new COVID-19 world of enhanced patient and staff safety. Let’s all plan on being ready to help each other when we see opportunities to wear our masks better. We should also be ready to hear when we could do better with our own mask use. We will all get through this together!

A Word on Physical Distancing

Physical distancing remains an important part of our bundle and toolkit, and we will need to continue to make modifications in many areas including clinic waiting areas, cafeterias, elevators and other places where people typically congregate.

We are creating materials that will be useful as we modify work and waiting areas. This will include signage, floor decals, checklists, job aides and other tools. We ask that you not move furniture or block areas to create “physical distancing” space. These materials will be available later this week and we appreciate your patience.

We encourage managers to be flexible with breaks and meetings to allow for appropriate physical distancing.

Plexiglass (Clear Plastic Barriers) Usage

In some areas of our hospitals and clinics, plexiglass was installed at the beginning of the pandemic to act as a distancing measure between our staff and patients or coworkers. We will not be installing additional barriers as we feel that the masking policy will provide the necessary protection for all our employees and patients. In addition, barriers like this cannot be installed in many areas due to the design of the space. We know that many grocery stores and other essential services in our community have installed these barriers; however, some of those sites do not require masks and cannot provide physical distancing in the way that we are doing in UW Medicine facilities.

Our only constant these days is change. Thank you all for rising to the challenge and for all that you do.

Sincerely,

John Lynch, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control Program
Associate Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine