If a hospital still asks you to mask up, do it

A health care worker exits the emergency department at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Three years ago this month, everything changed.

It happened here in Illinois on March 20, 2020, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a statewide stay-at-home order as the world went into lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Now, in the latest sign that COVID-19 continues to recede even further in the rear-view mirror, Advocate Health Care locations will no longer require face masks “under most circumstances” and is easing rules on patient visitation. The relaxed rules took effect Monday.

It is, as one infectious disease expert at Advocate said, “a really big step.” Last fall, Pritzker dropped the requirement that health care facilities require masks, but most hospitals kept those rules in place.



Some, like Northwestern Medicine and UChicago Health, will continue to do so. Advocate says its requirements will remain in place in Wisconsin, where COVID-19 transmission rates remain higher, and could be reinstated here if COVID makes a resurgence.

But while we celebrate another small milestone in the fight, keep in mind the more dismal reality for doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. For them, the burden of the pandemic is nowhere near being over, as the Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg and Ashlee Rezin reported last week.

As one doctor from Mount Sinai Hospital put it, “We’re still reeling from it.”

Staff shortages and violence by patients continue to hammer hospitals in the Chicago area and elsewhere.

Health care experts attribute the shortages to burnout from overwork. The increase in patient violence, they say, stems from stress caused by COVID-19 isolation, rising substance abuse — and the politics of masking.

“Nurses are spat on because they told people to put on masks. Nurses are slapped. A lot of emotional and verbal abuse,” Susan Swatt, executive director of the American Nurses Association of Illinois, told the Sun-Times.

We’re reminded of the inexcusable behavior of thousands of airline passengers cursed out and sometimes attacked flight crews for asking them to mask up when face masks were a requirement on planes.

The same bad behavior is inexcusable now. If there’s one place that is entirely within its rights to exercise caution and continue to require patients and visitor to wear a face mask — whether people like it or not, whether official requirements are in place or not — it’s a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office.

It’s for everyone’s health. Especially seniors, those with weakened immune systems — and the doctors, nurses and other workers who care for the rest of us.

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