CANTON, Mass – The Massachusetts Nurses Association Board of Directors – nurses and health care professionals elected by their MNA colleagues – voted during a board meeting on December 16 to recommend that masks be required in all public indoor settings in the Commonwealth until March 2022, regardless of vaccination status, to help reduce COVID-19 spread through the winter and flu season.
MNA nurses and healthcare professionals join other advocates such as the Mass Medical Society in calling for the indoor public mask mandate as Massachusetts experiences rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, serious illness, and death. The MNA board also reiterated its recommendations for heightened indoor air quality control measures specifically designed to address the risks in spaces people work and gather, along with the increased utilization of preventative procedures such as vaccination, contact tracing, and COVID-19 testing to help mitigate the spread of infection.
“Requiring masks for everyone within public indoor settings as part of a multi-pronged approach can help us prevent even more COVID-19 cases and allow nurses and healthcare professionals to care for patients who need increasingly complex care,” said Katie Murphy, practicing ICU nurse and president of the MNA. “The current surge in COVID-19 cases, the emergence of new variants, and a tidal wave of deferred care from earlier in the pandemic is putting a tremendous strain on an already fragile healthcare system.
“Even before the pandemic struck, patients were facing a crisis of care inside healthcare facilities as hospital executives used just-in-time staffing models to drive profits,” Murphy said. “Frontline caregivers already struggling to provide safe, high-quality care under that broken system have been burning out and suffering moral injury at alarming rates during the pandemic, leading to worse staff shortages that threaten the stability of our entire healthcare system.”
Masking is a public health measure proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19, as evidenced in a paper published in November 2021 in the journal Physics of Fluids that studied droplets from coughs and found “in the absence of face coverings, an unprotected cough is not safe at 2 m away from the emitter even outdoors.” A review of scientific evidence regarding masks as protection against COVID-19 published in January 2021 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, concluded, “The available evidence suggests that near-universal adoption of nonmedical masks when out in public, in combination with complementary public health measures, could successfully reduce Re to below 1, thereby reducing community spread if such measures are sustained.”
While the MNA board concluded that indoor public mask wearing is pivotal in the control and cessation of the pandemic, especially during the winter months and holidays, other measures are also essential.
- Healthcare facilities must maintain the highest standards of COVID-19 transmission protocols regarding the care of patients infected and potentially infected with COVID-19.
- Healthcare facilities must ensure access and consistent use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) in alignment with infectious disease standards for the safety of healthcare workers and their patients.
- Safe staffing levels, regular testing of all staff and patients, and the implementation of additional proven COVID-19 protocols must be universally promoted by healthcare facilities.
Massachusetts hospitals increasingly report being overwhelmed and lacking patient bed capacity. In response, the Department of Public Health has ordered hospitals that do not have at least 15% bed capacity to reduce non-urgent, scheduled procedures by 50%. However, nurses at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital have called for an investigation into Mass General Brigham’s compliance with the DPH order, saying that their OR is operating at full capacity with many non-urgent surgeries continuing, leaving patients waiting hours or days for care in the emergency department.
“As we advocate for public health best practices such as mask wearing, we remain vigilant about the decision-making of hospital executives who for years have degraded the ability of our healthcare system and its caregivers to respond to public health emergencies,” Murphy said. “By applying diverse public health strategies, ensuring best safety practices inside healthcare facilities, and working together on education and equitable access to prevention measures and treatment, we can drastically reduce the danger of COVID-19 in our communities and finally put an end to this pandemic.”