Effective March 28, a universal masking requirement in place since spring 2020 is optional for most patients, visitors and health care workers at Wilkes Medical Center and other hospitals and outpatient clinics of the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist health system.
Masks are still required in certain situations and clinical areas, such as emergency department waiting rooms and triage areas, and all cancer locations, to help protect those who are immunocompromised and vulnerable to respiratory viruses, said the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist spokesman who announced the change Monday.
The spokesman said patients who have been exposed to a respiratory illness such as flu, RSV or COVID-19, or have symptoms, should wear a well-fitting mask that covers the nose and mouth.
“As always, anyone planning to visit patients at any hospital should be healthy and should not have fever, cough, colds or stomach virus symptoms,” the spokesman said.
“It is important to note that some providers, staff, patients and visitors will still choose to wear a mask, and patients and visitors may request those caring for them to wear a mask. Those choices and requests should always be honored.”
The spokesman said patients or visitors asked to wear a mask in certain situations or areas are also expected to abide by those requests.
“In looking at the case rates across our region, our communities have sufficient immunity against COVID-19 — either through vaccination, natural infection or a combination of both — to support the lifting of universal masking requirements in our hospitals and clinics,” said Dr. Christopher Ohl, infectious disease expert at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
“This is an important step in resuming a sense of normalcy in our society, but we should all respect the fact that some people in our communities and health care settings will choose to continue to wear a mask due to their personal situations.”
The decision to make the universal masking requirement optional in most areas is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and an extensive review of scientific data and is being done in coordination with leaders and infection prevention teams from Wake Forest Baptist and other health systems across the region, including Atrium Health, Cone Health, Novant Health and Randolph Health.
Earlier this month, Wake Forest Baptist and the other collaborating health systems lifted visitation restrictions to allow more healthy children to visit hospitalized family members and loved ones. Universal masking requirements and visitation restrictions may be reinstated in the future during respiratory virus seasons or other periods of high community transmission of viruses.
The spread of illness can be reduced by washing hands frequently with soap, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth, practicing good hygiene and staying home from work or school if experiencing a fever or feeling ill.
Full visitor guidelines are updated at www.wakehealth.edu/patient-and-family-resources/preparing-for-your-visit/visitor-guidelines
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