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Over the last two months, we have faced many challenges. The future holds some unknowns, but there are some things that we can anticipate, including:

  • A planned transition to less restrictive physical distancing measures in the community expected at the beginning of May.
  • A gradual increase in outpatient visits, procedures and surgical volume.
  • An ongoing need to provide care for patients with COVID-19 in clinics, emergency departments and hospitals.
  • Continued outbreaks in local and regional skilled nursing facilities and facilities with shared living spaces.

When we think about the above, there is a significant concern that we will see more people with COVID-19 as a result of increased transmission in the community. The physical distancing measures put into place over a month ago have been very effective in “flattening the curve.” In anticipation of those restrictions loosening next month, we need to put other tools into place to protect healthcare workers and patients. Masking at all times will reduce exposure and transmission, especially from individuals in the pre-symptomatic phase of their illness.

  • Following a pilot that begins tomorrow at UW Medical Center – Northwest, effective Monday, April 27, UW Medicine staff and faculty who are present in buildings with clinical activity must wear a procedure mask supplied by their site while on the premises and within 6 feet of another person.
  • To support this new policy, we will be offering mask use education and training to ensure that everyone is comfortable with mask donning, doffing and handling.

Remember that masking is only one of several components of the UW Medicine COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Bundle and Healthcare Worker Safety Toolkit. It is still important that any staff member with symptoms of acute respiratory infection (such as fever, new cough, new shortness of breath, sore throat, body aches, loss of sense of smell) not be on the premises.

Here are some key points to think about as you prepare for required extended-use masking:

  • This policy applies to all employees working in buildings or areas (for instance, home care) where clinical care is provided or when walking through common areas in those same buildings. The updated policy also incorporates and replaces the UW Medicine Cloth Face Cover guidelines and provides guidance on mask use to faculty and staff in buildings without any clinical activities.
  • Visitors, patients and vendors will also be expected to wear masks while in UW Medicine facilities. They can use cloth face covers, personal masks or can be provided a procedure mask. Vendors will follow the same policy 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 (see the policy and FAQs). Physical distancing and taking precautions like washing your hands, using hand sanitizer and cleaning surfaces frequently should continue when at home.

Please review the UW Medicine Required Extended-Use Masking Policy Statement with Frequently Asked Questions for more details.

We know that this is not going to be easy for many (ourselves included). Some people have tried wearing a mask and found it uncomfortable or that it interrupted their normal activities and stopped doing so. We are going to have to acknowledge this challenge and find ways to change how we go about our days. Thank you for your cooperation and support as we face the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 now and in the future. We will keep working on this process, look forward to hearing back from you and hope to be able to respond and modify as we move forward.