By Shelley Farrington Lincoln News • April 27, 2023
MILLINOCKET – In the three plus years that Millinocket Regional Hospital has been leading the Katahdin region in community response surrounding Covid-19, Hospital officials have taken great pride in keeping the region as safe as possible through education, vaccination and communication. (The first recorded presumptive positive case of Covid-19 was March 12, 2020).
That leadership continues as MRH, using the latest information provided by the state and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) , is easing the mask mandate in the hospital. Those with Covid, recovering from Covid will need to be masked, or who are just more comfortable with a mask will be supported, said MRH’s Shelly Drew, vice president of corporate compliance, risk management and quality.
It was also noted that the mandate could be back in place if health conditions warrant it.
“On April 3, 2020, the CDC released a recommendation that public citizens should wear masks to protect them from the Covid-19 virus,” Drew said in a memo to MRH staff. “MRH has utilized the CDC and the Maine CDC for guidance surrounding Covid-19. This week the Maine Hospital Association sent out an update regarding masking in hospitals. The Maine chapter of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) recommended ending universal masking in hospitals.
“It is with great pleasure, and some reservation, that I inform all of you that beginning Monday, April 24 MRH will no longer require all employees to wear a mask at work,” Drew said.
MRH CEO Robert Peterson, D. Sc., FACHE said the hospital has relied on “the experts” to help navigate the pandemic response and will continue to do so.
“We have relied upon the experts, the data, and the available research to stay current with our approach,” Peterson said. “As the pandemic is now progressing toward endemic disease status, we remain consistent with that. The experts at the CDC have recommended that universal masking is no longer necessary in most settings as the vast majority of Americans possess some level of Covid immunity, either through vaccination, actual infection or both.
“Paying close attention to the science and the data, and following the current CDC recommendations, MRH has elected to relax the masking policies that have been in place for three years. We will continue to require masks for patients who are actively sick with respiratory symptoms and for the staff caring for these patients. We will continue to respect the wishes of any patient requesting that MRH staff wear masks when caring for them. This represents basic courtesy and respect and no masking requests will be questioned or denied,” Peterson said.
Drew also reiterated that patients, staff and visitors can still wear masks if they choose and that decision will be fully supported without argument or discussion.
Other recommendations for Covid prevention and management remain the same, Drew said. If you’re sick, stay home, wash your hands, watch for symptoms like fever, coughing, vomiting and take the necessary precautions.
“Believe me when I say I really want this to be the end of masking requirements,” Drew said, “I am cautiously optimistic about this. Remember we are a small organization with not a lot of depth. In some departments one or two individuals out with illness is detrimental to that department. Please stay vigilant.
Peterson agreed and said he was proud of the MRH staff and the community for working to contain Covid and keeping the region as healthy as possible.
“My sincere thanks to the community for all you have done and endured during the pandemic,” Peterson said, “together we have met the challenges of an unprecedented and deadly viral outbreak and we have persevered.”