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Providence Swedish, MultiCare locations now requiring masks. Here's why

After a rise in influenza and RSV cases, masks are now required in Swedish clinics and emergency departments as well as Puget Sound-area MultiCare locations.

SEATTLE — Both Providence Swedish and MultiCare clinics announced they would start requiring masking from visitors, patients and caregivers.

Providence Swedish clinics and hospitals started requiring masks on Tuesday, while MultiCare will start requiring them in their facilities in Thurston, Kitsap, King, and Pierce counties on Wednesday.

This is due to the rise of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases that have passed the set threshold developed by the Northwest Healthcare Response Network (NHRN) to require masking. 

According to King County, emergency department (ED) visits diagnosed with influenza and RSV have increased since early November 2023 and October 2023, respectively. RSV emergency visits are nearly three times above the threshold, currently standing at 1.14%, which is well above the 0.3% threshold. In King County, there have been 166 ED visits due to RSV in the week ending on Nov. 25. 

COVID-19 ED visits are below the transmission alert threshold, as they have decreased since mid-September 2023. However, the masking requirements are triggered when one pathogen out of RSV, influenza and COVID-19 reaches or exceeds the threshold. 

Credit: King County
The alert threshold for influenza is 1.0% among emergency department visits. It currently stands at 1.12% as of the week ending on Nov. 25.
Credit: King County
The alert threshold for RSV is 0.3% among emergency department visits. It currently stands at 1.14%, nearly four times the threshold.

The mandatory mask policy will remain until both RSV and influenza go below the threshold for ED visits and CDC COVID-19 hospital admissions stay below medium for at least two weeks, according to NHRN guidelines

"There are vulnerable populations at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 and from other respiratory diseases, for whom universal masking in the healthcare setting is needed," reads the priorities listed in the guidelines. 

The masking requirements, according to the Swedish website, are in the following locations: 

  • Hospital patient rooms and hallways.
  • Patient exam rooms.
  • Registration/front desk and check-in locations.
  • All Providence Swedish clinic locations, including urgent care.
  • Emergency Departments and ED waiting rooms.
  • Oncology/cancer waiting rooms.

COVID-19 vaccines are still strongly recommended by the hospital for all visitors, which continue to be allowed from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. in hospital locations. Visitors must pass self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms and recent exposure in the past 10 days. 

To read the newly implemented policy, check the Swedish website. 

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